(WBIR) Hundreds of people packed McGhee Tyson Airport to greet 130 heroes with a big welcome home.
HonorAir Knoxville gave veterans from World War II and the Korean War an all expense-paid trip to D.C. to tour memorials built in their honor Wednesday morning. When they returned to Knoxville that night, the veterans were greeted with hundreds of smiles, handshakes, and thanks yous. The homecoming celebration brought some men to tears as they hugged and kissed their wives, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. For many of the men, it was a strong reminder that people appreciate their sacrifices and will honor their legacy for decades to come.
The welcome home was extra special for Korean War veteran Charlie Denyer. The last time he went on the trip, he missed out on the homecoming because of an injury. On the plane ride to D.C., Charlie bumped his leg. For most of us, the bump would have merely caused a bruise, but for Charlie, the injury became a serious threat because he was on blood thinners. Denyer was forced to spend the night in a Washington D.C. hospital, so he had to stay behind while the rest of the group flew back to Knoxville. Still he made the most of his situation and forged a strong friendship with his medic, Matt Owners, who stayed by his side the entire time.
"Some might say you get stuck overnight in D.C. then you drew the short straw," said Charlie. "I actually drew the blessing."
But he still wanted to experience that emotional homecoming himself, and last night HonorAir granted Denyer his wish.
The trip to D.C. was also filled with bitter-sweet emotions; it may have been the veterans' last time seeing memorials engraved with names of family and friends killed during the war. For Korean War vet Gorman Bolling of Morristown it was an emotional trip. He traveled to D.C. with the army 67 years ago but never had the opportunity to go back until yesterday.
"In Korea, I had a lot of people lost. My brother-in-law, my best friend . . . I want to see their names on the wall," said Bolling. "That's what I want to see."
Sixteen million Americans served in World War II, and today there's only three million left.
Every day we lose about 1,200 World War II veterans, according to HonorAir's website. In another five to 10 years, almost all World War II veterans will have passed away.
HonorAir said these trips are the least we could do for the "greatest generation" who ensured our freedoms decades ago. So far the non-profit has flown more than 2,000 veterans to see memorials in D.C. for free. Each trip costs about $500 per veteran. The organization said not a dollar from donations goes to administrative expenses, which are paid by Prestige Cleaners. Every single dollar donated is applied directly to the cost of trips.
Click on the link for ways to donate and more information about HonorAir: http://bit.ly/1h3bPKJ