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90-year-old mother watches her Vietnam veteran son get a proper welcome at the Fresno airport

John Walker, 68, and his mother Carolyn, 90, hug each other after John Walker arrived Wednesday, May 15, 2019, from a three-day trip to Washington, D.C. war memorials as part of the 19th Central Valley Honor Flight.

CRESENCIO RODRIGUEZ-DELGADO, FRESNO BEE/TNS

By CRESENCIO RODRIGUEZ-DELGADO | The Fresno Bee | Published: May 17, 2019

FRESNO, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — As the bright light on the screen grew, a 90-year-old mother leaned on a silver pillar inside Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California and peered over to watch the airplane prepare to land.

“They’re here,” Carolyn Walker thought to herself in that moment.

Among the 68 former military men returning on the 19th Central Valley Honor Flight trip from Washington D.C., was Walker’s son.

She’s remains so proud of him.

Her son, 68-year-old John Walker, served as an Air Force crew chief during the Vietnam War in 1970 and ’71.

And this time, Carolyn Walker had plenty of company to help welcome these veterans home with a long tunnel of family and friends waiting.

Decades after that war — an unpopular one to a contingent of anti-war Americans at the time — the men who had landed this week were getting a different kind of welcome.

But this one was filled with hugs and honor, not resentment.

“I can’t even tell you how wonderful it was to be able to hug him,” the older Walker said. “They were so mistreated when they came home, and to have them now, watch all these people who are thanking their veterans, it’s really amazing.”

The special trip takes veterans to see war memorials that honor the men and women who made sacrifices to fight for their country.

The group that arrived this week was made up of only Vietnam veterans.

When the first men came within view of the massive assembly that was the cue for the supporters to cheer and wave miniature American flags to surprise the veterans.

John Walker couldn’t believe it.

“There’s a lot of emotion that is hidden over the last 40 or 50 years that this helps bring out,” he said.

He found his mother and sister Jean Hardy, 64, along the way and stepped out of the procession to hug them.

The family, whose patriarch was a World War II prisoner of war, traveled from Visalia for the homecoming.

When Walker arrived from Vietnam at Travis Air Force Base decades ago, the welcome wasn’t extravagant like this week’s.

Carolyn Walker said she didn’t even know when her son had arrived or how he had returned.

“I had no way of welcoming him home till later,” she said.

She worried for him when he was away.

“I prayed all the time. I still do,” she added. “It’s sad, what we saw before.”

John Walker said he and his fellow veterans were treated “like royalty” during the trip. A special touch to the trip was a batch of letters he got from students, which he began to read on his way back to Fresno, Calif.

All those years when he’d felt disappointed about the manner in which some Americans treated him for being a Vietnam veteran were no match to the patriotism he witnessed in the three days away, he said.

“I read about 30 letters, just cried the whole time.”

This, Walker said, is the only homecoming that matters.

©2019 The Fresno Bee (Fresno, Calif.)
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Crowds cheer as the 19th Central Valley Honor Flight returns to Fresno on Wednesday, May 15, 2019. ()
CRESENCIO RODRIGUEZ-DELGADO, FRESNO BEE/TNS

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