GREENSBORO — Late Thursday, a group of military veterans got off a plane at Piedmont Triad International Airport and received a rousing welcome from several hundred people waving American flags and signs.
It was a fitting tribute. Thursday was, after all, Veterans Day.
“It was just something that sent chills down your spine,” Harvey McDonald said.
The veterans were part of a free trip to Washington, D.C., to see war memorials. McDonald, who was in the Marines from 1957 to 1963, was one of them.
“There was such an electricity in the air. Everybody was just laughing and having a good time,” he added.
The trip was organized by Triad Honor Flight, which formed last year to take military veterans living in the area to see memorials that pay tribute to the fallen. The chapter is part of a national network of Honor Flight organizations that has provided trips to thousands of veterans over the past 15 years.
“It was really a day to remember. Surreal is a word I use,” said Alison Huber, the executive director of Triad Honor Flight.
She was inspired to form the Greensboro branch after her father’s own Honor Flight. In starting the Triad chapter, Huber is continuing the work of a previous Greensboro-based Honor Flight organization that transported around 1,300 World War II veterans to the nation’s capital from 2009 to 2011.
This most recent flight included 95 veterans who served in World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and the Cold War era. There were also guardians, bus chaperones, medical personnel and other volunteers. In total, about 200 people made the trip. Each veteran’s $600 ticket was picked up by the organization.
“We had four husband-wife groups that had both served,” Huber said.
Filling four chartered buses, participants visited a number of veterans memorials and laid wreaths at four of them. There were also stops at the Martin Luther King Jr. and Franklin D. Roosevelt memorials.
McDonald said the day’s excitement turned somber when the group stopped at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where a wall is inscribed with names of the fallen.
“There was an eerie silence knowing that every name on that wall represented a life and a story,” McDonald said.
Originally, the mission of Honor Flight was to fly World War II veterans only. Over the years, those veterans have become fewer.
Now Honor Flight welcomes veterans 65 and older, regardless of where or when they served.
Jeff Miller, the man who started the Honor Flight concept out of Asheville in 2006, surprised Huber by joining the tour.
“That was a very special treat for us,” Huber said.
Huber received another surprise when the tour returned to Greensboro and her parents were among those welcoming veterans home. They had flown there for the occasion.
“I was boohooing like there’s no tomorrow,” Huber said.
Huber said Thursday’s welcome home was particularly meaningful for Vietnam veterans.
“It gave them some closure,” she said, “where they didn’t get that before.”
For McDonald, the best part of the day was being among fellow veterans.
“It was just the camaraderie and the feeling of being together with all of those individuals that had a common bond that you can only feel if you were in the military,” he said.