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Three Generations Of Veterans Take Off On Honor Flight

Three generations of veterans took off on the Quad Cities 36th Honor Flight to Washington D.C. last week.

The World War Two, Korea and Vietnam vets spent the day visiting the war memorials that honor their service. 

Just before 6 a.m., the veterans begin to pass through security, get their photo taken and make their way through the coffee and donut line. Then they settle in near the gate with other vets and their guardians — family members or other volunteers who travel alongside the veterans.

Richard Hatlett, a WWII vet, and his daughter, Lisa, wait to board the Honor Flight.
Credit Lacy Scarmana / WVIK
Richard Hatlett, a WWII vet, and his daughter, Lisa, wait to board the Honor Flight.

Richard Hatlett, who served in the army during World War Two, sits in a wheelchair next to his daughter, Lisa. 

"She made me go, so that's why I'm here," Hatlett says.

Lisa says she has been trying to get her father to sign up for an Honor Flight for several years, but he wasn't convinced until he saw photos of from Lisa's friend and her father, another WWII vet, on the trip.

"I've asked him a couple times over the years and he really didn't care to go, but I showed some of the pictures to him and it just clicked," Lisa says. "We said if we're going to do it, we need to get it done."

Hatlett is one of just three WWII vets on the trip. 16 million soldiers served in the war but just under 700 thousand are still alive today. They have first priority to travel on the Honor Flights, but the numbers have been dwindling since the trips began in 2008.

"I just think it will be a good, meaningful experience for the two of us to share together," Lisa says. "When I was a kid, he didn't talk about his time in the war or in the army."

Hatlett says for years, he didn't talk about it to anybody because if they weren't there, they wouldn't understand. 

In fact, many of the veterans haven't opened up to their families about their time in the service. As they'll tell you, they did their duty and there's not much else to talk about. And Hatlett was far from the only one who took some convincing to go on the Honor Flight.

Credit Lacy Scarmana / WVIK
Robert Miller and his father George, a Korean War vet, wait to board the Honor Flight.

Robert Miller encouraged his father George, a Korean War veteran, to go together.

"His grandson, my son, is active duty Air Force. He returned from an eight-month deployment in Kuwait and we had a hero's welcome for him here," Robert says. "That kind of got my mind thinking about getting [my dad] on an Honor Flight."

This will be George Miller's first time seeing the Korean War Memorial — at least in person. Robert bought him a book on the memorial, but George says seeing it in person will make him "teary."

The Korean War Memorial is made up of 19 statues of soldiers trekking through bushes. The troops wear ponchos to represent the cold Korean winds and their haunting faces show the toll of the harsh conditions.

"It's very emotional," Robert says.

It's an emotional and fast-paced day for all the veterans.

As the plane pulls up to the gate in D.C., it drives between two fire trucks for a water cannon salute, and as soon as the vets step off the plane, they're greeted with applause and cheers from soldiers and supporters the entire way to the buses.  

Veterans are greeted with handshakes and applause as they arrive in Washington D.C. pic.twitter.com/zRiIqjz0Pa — WVIK 90.3 FM (@WVIKfm) May 26, 2016

It's a warm reception, reminiscent of the patriotic crowds welcoming home soldiers after WWII and the Korean War. But this greeting is foreign to the veterans who served in Vietnam.

Vietnam veterans describe what it was like to come home from war.

Mike Campbell was in the Infantry in Vietnam from ages 19 to 21. He earned a Purple Heart after a gunshot wound to the head and a Bronze Star for capturing four North Vietnamese. But he wasn't celebrated when he got back.

"When I first got back, all the people wanted to throw rotten eggs at us and I really didn't want nothing to do with them," he says. "Today there was young kids just getting ready to graduate from high school and they talked to me today. They shook my hand and that makes you feel good."

A veteran pays his respects at the Vietnam Wall Memorial.
Credit Lacy Scarmana / WVIK
A veteran pays his respects at the Vietnam Wall Memorial.

Several Vietnam vets said they signed up for the Honor Flight right away when the flights were first opened up to them last November. That's in contrast to many veterans of previous wars who had to be talked into it.

Everywhere the veterans went, people stopped to thank them for their service. Children approached a group of veterans to ask for photos with them during a tour of the Air and Space Museum. Strangers shook their hands at war memorials. A crowd formed around them as they walked through Arlington Cemetery to the watch the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The veterans receive applause while passing through Arlington Cemetery. pic.twitter.com/t7HDir5P7f — Lacy Scarmana (@LacyScarmana) May 26, 2016

But the largest crowd of the day welcomed the veterans home at the Quad City airport. Hundreds and hundreds of people formed a path for the vets and their guardians, shaking hands, giving hugs and kisses and pats on the back.

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