It's a race against the clock. Honor Flight Southern Arizona is working to get our local veterans on the flight they deserve before it's too late.
"We're not going to be around too awful long," admitted Dan Culler, U.S. Army Air Corps veteran.
These men and women returned from Europe and the Pacific with little fanfare, then went their own ways, becoming pilots, truckers, bankers and loggers. But on this long-deserved trip with brothers in arms, it's like they're all 19 years old again.
But this time, after a quick three-day trip to Washington, D.C., and back, they're coming home to the thanks they earned.
The government shutdown and some wet weather altered their plans, but this group made it to the most important landmark, the memorial built in their honor.
With those images fresh in their minds, they're almost home. They've made it this far, and the comforts of home are close at hand.
But first, a surprise of monstrous proportions.
Over a loudspeaker in a never ending crowd of grateful Southern Arizonans, an announcement: "Please welcome Honor Flight 11!"
All the parking lots were full, and it was standing room only from the gates to the check-in counters and back. Airport officials said they stopped counting at 1,300 people. Friends, family members and other proud Americans gathered to welcome these men and women home. It's the biggest homecoming Honor Flight Southern Arizona has ever experienced.
"You can't put a price tag on it," said Honor Flight guardian Aaron Wilson.
Another guardian, Varnado Standifer, escorted his father, Carl, on the trip.
"To be able to share this opportunity with my dad, it's just an amazing experience," Standifer said.
World War II veteran Waldo Werft expresses his surprise to another guardian, "Isn't this fantastic? I never thought it'd turn out like this!"
Fellow veteran Darrell Reatherford said, "It's... a big thrill for me."
Among the crowd were some WWII veterans who have taken the trip before. Red Hollander is always there to send the groups off and welcome them home.
"I hope you had a good time, buddy!" Hollander said to Charlie Wohlleb as he came down the receiving line.
"It's just amazing," said Dan Culler. "I couldn't believe all the people there."
Werft said he's happy to know that "kids today" know the importance of military service.
"It's a high honor that people care enough even today to want to know where I was and what I did."
"There's still more people waiting," said Rep. Ron Barber, (D) Arizona, "So we all have to make sure we help if we can."
Honor Flight Southern Arizona has flown nearly 350 World War II veterans since the hub was founded in 2011. But there's still about 200 on the waiting list, and new applications are coming in every day.
To find out how you can help, visit www.honorflightsaz.org.
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