BOSTON (CBS) – It was six o’clock on a crystal clear Sunday morning at Logan Airport’s Terminal A, and the departure gate was packed. There were members of the military, a long line of civilians, even a military band. They were all on hand to greet 62 World War II and Korean War veterans who were about to embark on a day long trip to Arlington National Cemetery and the World War II and Korean War Memorials in Washington D.C.
Steve Wienott of Southboro, who served 24 years in the military, makes it a point to be at every sendoff. He’s been doing it for 10years.
“I get emotional seeing these guys. They earned this. It took too long for us to build a memorial down there, so they earned it. You see the looks in their faces. They weren’t expecting this,” he explained.
Nancy Barile teaches English language arts at Revere High School. She brought more than a dozen of her students with her.
“I think it gives the kids a historical perspective and connection that you can’t get from reading a book about World War II. Now they’ve met people that fought in this war and they have a new appreciation for their service,” she said.
Dale Powers, Music Director of the Defendants Concert Corp, struck up the band as the veterans, most of them in wheelchairs, were pushed toward the gates.
“For them to be able to go to Washington D.C. and do what they’re going to do today, we wanted to just send them off with a bit of nostalgia for them, and their faces are priceless,” he said.
The tab for this day long trip to the nation’s capital is picked up by Honor Flight New England, as a way of saying thank you for your service. Honor Flight New England is a non-profit organization founded in 2009 by retired police officer Joe Byron.
“For us it’s a lesson in humility. We hear from them that they didn’t do anything special, there are heroes who didn’t come home, and we learn from them,” he said.
Honor Flight New England has now completed 48 flights transporting 62 military veterans ranging in age from 82 to five months short of 100. Sal Pomer, 91, of Peabody, watched the sendoff with a bit of envy. He is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War.
“I was a tail gunner on a B-24 bomber stationed in India, and in Korea I was an instructor,” he said.
Pomer had taken the Washington trip back in April, and convinced his brother, also a World War II vet, to give it a go. “I thought it was the most organized trip I’d ever been on. Everything was precision and there was no waiting and it was great. It was one of the greatest trips I ever took,” he said.
The crowd wasn’t as big but equally enthusiastic when the Honor Flight New England plane touched down at Logan at 10:30 pm. Somerville native and Red Cross Event Coordinator Ellen Sullivan was on hand to greet the returning vets. “When you see them go out this morning, and they’re joyful, but then when they come home, there’s like an exhilaration even though they’re exhausted. Wait until you see their faces. It’s spectacular,” she said.
Sydney Rose, 97, of Marblehead, who served in a submarine in the Pacific during World War II, didn’t disappoint. “I couldn’t handle it all,” he exclaimed. “The part when we came on and we had all these people at five o’clock, six o’clock in the morning, greeting us as we left , it’s too much,” he said.
World War II Navy vet Fred McKinnon, 92, agreed. The sendoff was a highlight.
“I think this was the best part, coming in here this morning. That kind of surprised me, it almost brought tears to your eyes, beautiful,” he said.
Honor Flight New England founder Joe Byron said he decided to get involved after listening to a story from a World War II vet. “The vet that I met, his name was Jerry and he and his buddy Spags were machine gunners in battle, and Spags’ machine gun jammed. They asked Jerry to fix Spags’ machine gun while Spags took over Jerry’s machine gun during battle and when Jerry came back, Spags was gone. He had been killed, and he lived all these years with survivor’s guilt and he got emotional as he told his story. This is their opportunity to tell their story that they’ve held for so long,” he explained.
Joe Barker, from Norwood, served in the Army during the Korean War.
“I had an excellent time today. I’m just amazed by the whole thing. I saw the Korean War Memorial and it did something to me,” he said.
Jasper Atkins, from Westwood is 91 years young. He was assigned to the 7th Infantry Division in Okinawa during World War II.
“Going through the World War Memorial meant an awful lot to me,” he said.
The vets are accompanied by guardians. Joel Brenner took his 91-year-old father-in-law, Sal Pomer of Peabody, in April and loved every minute of it.
Brenner laughed as people snapped pictures with him.
“He’s a rock star,” Brenner said. “My father-in-law is a 91 year old rock star.” He added, “If you have a World War II or Korean War veteran in your family, by all means, you should be going to this event.”
Honor Flight New England’s next trip is planned for November 5.
For more information go to honorflightnewengland.org
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Mary Blake reports