Joan Klinke waved the American flag for her 97-year-old husband before his flight landed at the San Diego Airport Sunday.
Hundreds of family and friends waited for 76, mostly World War II, veterans on the Honor Flight. The vets returned from Washington, DC after visiting the WWII Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and other memorials with Honor Flight San Diego, a non-profit branch of the nationwide Honor Flight Network.
Klinke, festively sporting two American flags on her head, has been married to her former WWII pilot for 74 years.
“Our mom followed him through all the basic training and it’s just a beautiful story of love,” one of Klinke’s daughters said.
Their father, Ray, was shot down over a German prison camp and held there as a prisoner of war, his other daughter explained.
“The day my dad was shot down was the day she came home with my brother, the one that [accompanied their father] on the trip,” her daughter said.
“Whatever they say is true,” Klinke laughed.
Sharon Kocaya and her sister Jane Muntz traveled with their 92-year-old father who served in the Army in the Pacific during WWII on the cross-country trip.
“The experience is something we wish everyone could experience,” Muntz said. “It’s amazing to be with all these seniors that have had such experiences that we will never know.”
Private First Class Adam Ballard also waited for his father who served in the Navy in the Vietnam War. “He received the Congressional Medal of Honor in 1970 from President Nixon after he fearlessly threw himself upon a lethal hand grenade to save Marines,” Ballard said. “Fortunately for him the hand grenade didn’t go off until after he’d thrown it away.
Ballard said his father is one of the reasons he joined the Marine Corps himself.
Fred Warner served in the Navy in Guadalcanal.
“I heard about this Honor Flight, and they called me and they treated me like a king. That’s the most wonderful thing I’ve ever seen. It was a wonderful weekend. I enjoyed it. ..I cannot believe this crowd. There was a crowd in Washington, DC that couldn’t compare with this crowd. I so appreciate it. All my girls are here, my daughter,” Warner said getting emotional. “It means the whole world to me. I thought everybody forgot about us World War II veterans. Not many of us left.”