The founder of HonorAir Knoxville is now an honorary lifetime member of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

Businessman Eddie Mannis was surprised Tuesday with the honor at Sherrill Hills Retirement Community.

Chapter 1078 of the Vietnam Veterans of America says the generosity that Mannis has shown all veterans made him an obvious choice for the membership.

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Mannis in 2007 started a project to escort World War II veterans on an all-expense paid trip to Washington, D.C. to see the memorials built in their honor. Twice a year now veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam travel up to Washington for a full day of sightseeing.

More than 3,000 veterans have made the trip, leaving from McGhee Tyson Airport in the morning and returning later that night from Reagan National Airport.

Special guests Tuesday included WBIR's John Becker, actress Jennifer O'Neill and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.

Mannis, founder of Prestige Cleaners, said he was humbled by the recognition.

"We do it for men and women that have given so much for this country, and so it's kind of hard for me to take the attention with being recognized with this," he said. "But it's just a pleasure for us to be able to do the program, and we hope to do it for many, many, many more years, and I'm humbled and overwhelmed by this recognition."