Dozens of U.S. military veterans woke up bright and early Friday and headed to San Diego International Airport to head to Washington D.C. as part of a program that is back on after a two-year hiatus forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Honor Flight San Diego welcomed 94 veterans from the Korean War and World War II for the occasion. Once the group touches down in D.C., participants will visit memorial sites created in honor of veterans’ sacrifice.
Those who were set to take off to Washington told NBC 7 how thrilled they were for the ride.
“I’m looking forward to this because of the experience of my ex-shipmate,” said Wags Waggoner, a 92-year-old Korean War veteran. “And he was so thrilled about it so I kept thinking about it. Finally, I called and got an application. I was really honored they selected me.”
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Jack Bruzas, a World War II veteran, said the excitement had him staying up.
“I feel like a kid in a candy shop. Like, you don’t know what to do and you’re so excited about it,” Bruzas said. “Couldn’t even sleep last night because it’s an honor and it’s a pleasure. I’ve seen it before on TV and I’ve said, ‘Oh, I wish I could go,’ and I got my chance now!”
Those participating in the weekend trip include veterans ages 85 to 104, including seven individuals over the age of 100.
Honor Flight San Diego is a volunteer-run organization that escorts veterans to memorial sites in Washington D.C. There, they can reflect on their experience, share their stories and remember peers who’ve made the ultimate sacrifice.
The pandemic forced the program to stop for two years, but Friday marks the first flight since its hiatus.
“We’re thrilled to get this started again and we have so many veterans who have been on our waiting list and we’re getting this flight again,” said founder Dave Smith. “Watching them come in as excited as can be – I just can’t wait to get going.”
Smith told NBC 7 that when they paused flights, they did other events to keep the veterans’ spirits up.
“We were always hopeful, and we did as many things as we could last year to try to keep things going,” he said. “We were doing drive-by’s and birthday drive-by’s and hello’s to different folks, but it’s not quite the same as taking them back to Washington D.C.”
Participants will return to San Diego on Sunday to a homecoming in their honor. Anyone is welcomed to join in on the celebratory homecoming.
“I really appreciate everything,” Waggoner said. “Everybody’s so nice and well-organized. It’s really a wonderful experience. I recommend it to all veterans who are eligible.”
Those who would like to apply for the experience, or those who would like to volunteer to help, can click here for more information.