Cedar Valley Honor Flight veterans during their visit to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 2022.

Cedar Valley Honor Flight veterans during their visit to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 21, 2022. (Cedar Valley Honor Flight/Facebook)

WASHINGTON (Tribune News Service) — Just as the wheels left the tarmac for flight SY 8651, the 94 veterans on board were already made to feel special.

Martin Anderson, the pilot on the early Wednesday morning trip out of Waterloo Regional Airport, wanted to honor those on board as they began their day-long trek to the nation’s capital.

As Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA“ blared on the cabin speakers, the 28th Sullivan-Hartogh-Davis Cedar Valley Honor Flight was on its way.

On one of the three buses was volunteer Bob Alexander, who gave riders a guided tour of the Washington, D.C., area. For him, the motivation to volunteer to greet veterans at the airport and give tours is twofold.

After spending 27 years in the Air Force, Alexander hoped to honor his father, who flew on a B-17 bomber crew in World War II, and the troops that he led as a squadron commander.

The first stop was the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial and then the Air Force Memorial, the newest of the armed forces memorial sites.

The crowd stood attentively and solemnly as they watched one rifleman be relieved by another, as is done every half hour at the top and bottom of the hour.

All day long, the veterans were thanked by passing tourists, by employees at the airports or active service men and women whom they bumped into at the memorials.

U.S. Army Brig. Gen. David Cole, a Waterloo native, stood at the World War II Memorial in the uniform he wore at his retirement ceremony in 1991 alongside his wife, Connie. He was ready to greet the veterans, just as he has for all 27 previous Cedar Valley honor flights.

“My wife and I have met all 28 honor flights. I get rejuvenated every time I come down and meet these fine veterans,” Cole said. “Especially veterans from Waterloo.”

From there, the convey headed to the longest stop of the day, toward the Lincoln Memorial and the nearby Vietnam and Korean War memorials.

Veterans in their commemorative red shirts and white hats walked by the Reflecting Pool at the Washington Monument toward the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where more than 58,000 names are etched into the wall. Many veterans searched for familiar names.

One such man was David Will, a Vietnam Army veteran. A teacher at Columbus Catholic High School in Waterloo, Will was looking for the name Michael O’Conner. O’Conner is the only Columbus graduate to have been killed in Vietnam, Will said.

“I took the day off from work to come, so I figured I’d better come check on Michael,” he said.

Not having known any other veterans on this Honor Flight didn’t matter to Will, who said he made some new friends after the day’s events.

“It was a fantastic experience,” he said. “Everybody should do it.”

(c)2022 Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier (Waterloo, Iowa)

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Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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