The Honor Flight of Myrtle Beach landed for the last time Wednesday bringing home World War II and Korean War veterans speechless and exhausted after a day sightseeing in Washington, D.C.
A crowd including representatives from the boy scouts and girl scouts, Blue Star Mothers, American Legion, Rolling Thunder and the Knights of Columbus greeted the veterans at Myrtle Beach International Airport as they returned late Wednesday.
Mario Bonaro, an Army Veteran who served during the Korean War, said the reception was shocking.
“That was 60 years ago,” he said. “A long, long time ago. A lot of water under the bridge. When I left the Army, I got in my car and drove home. This is unbelievable.”
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The trip, which was the seventh for the non-profit, meant as much to their families as it did to the veterans.
Susan Jones drove from Hartsville with family to see her father, WWII veteran Boyd Munn, return. She said Munn is turning 89 Thursday, had never been to the memorials and wasn’t sure if he would be able to with his declining health.
Munn was beside himself with excitement in the days leading up to the trip, and Jones said seeing his face as he left the plane would make the trek to Hartsville worth the drive.
Honor Flight organizers said Wednesday’s trip was the first to include Korean War veterans and is the finale.
Finding veterans from “The Greatest Generation” whose health in their mid- to upper 80s still will let them make this excursion has become a challenge, especially with an average of 1,000 such veterans nationwide who die every day. Each veteran flies for free as a gift. Part of each flight’s $60,000 price tag is met through donations from sponsoring guardians who accompany a veteran or two and foot $500 for their own fares, and through fundraisers from groups across the community, such as Blue Star Mothers.
Bert Cassels of Pawleys Island, a retired Navy captain, has remained the local Honor Flight director and an ambassador since he and wife GG Cassels got the inaugural flight going.
He said the enterprise started as “just kind of a vision” that “just kept building.” When the local entourages visit Washington, the veterans have felt so floored and honored by the people who greet them, from schoolchildren on field trips, to young adults and tourists from other countries.
Flights will continue April 22 from Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport in Greer, May 7 from Columbia Metropolitan Airport, and Sept. 6 from Charleston International Airport, and through a group’s bus trips May 16-18 and Sept. 5-7 from suburban Savannah, Ga.
Charlie Zanghi, a Navy veteran from the Korean War, described the trip as a week’s worth of great sight-seeing in one day.
Korean Veteran Neil Hilt said it brought back a lot of memories to see the memorials, but that it was a great experience.
“It was shocking, surprising, wonderful,” he said. “I didn’t realize people respected us as much as they do and those monuments are so beautiful.”