As the military veterans got off the bus early this morning at American Legion Post 347, they were greeted with cheers, water cannon, waving flags and patriotic song.
Those who had waited hours in the dark to greet the latest men to travel on the Villages Honor Flight, could only imagine what these men had experienced in the previous 24 hours.
Village of Amelia resident Barbara Hambright waited until 1 a.m. with her two granddaughters, Havana and Hanalei Strub of Oakland, Calif. The trio also had been there in the wee hours to see the men off on their journey to Washington D.C. to visit the war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery.
The girls could hardly contain their excitement. (And no, they hadn’t napped during the day.)
Grandpa Joe Hambright had been on the trip to Washington D.C. Like his wife, he is a volunteer with Villages Honor Flight.
Don Townsend of the Village of Liberty Park waited in the dark for the return home ceremony, too. He served as a guardian for Villages Honor Flight this past April.
“It’s an experience like none other,” he said. “It is truly an emotional event.”
His wife Marlene was at his side early this morning at the American Legion, performing with the Villages Cheerleaders.
When the men, many of them World War II veterans, finally disembarked from the bus, the shrieking and cheers must have been heard for miles. This after a police escort and the thundering company of the Villages Nomads delivered them to the Legion’s doorstep.
Clearly from the looks on the men’s faces, it had been an emotionally exhausting day.
Villager Bob Kimbrough was smiling — but weary — at the welcome-home ceremony.
“What can I say? It was the most memorable experience of my life,” he said.
John Driscoll of Villages Honor Flight had made the exhaustive journey and said the men were pleased to have been greeted at one of the sites by former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole and his wife Elizabeth.
“You can see that Bob Dole’s health is in decline, but it made a difference to these guys to see him there,” Driscoll said.
Villager Michael Rossi served as an Army Ranger at the D-Day invasion of Omaha Beach.
His face was worn as his Honor Flight guardian John Bartelink wheeled him off the bus and into the embrace of his wife Marie.
When his wife asked him about the day, Rossi’s and Bartelink’s eyes met. Both men smiled.
“It was a good day,” Rossi said.