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November 11th, 2009
08:01 AM ET

A flight of honor for our "Greatest Generation"

It’s 0600 hours in Fayetteville, Georgia and I’m up with troops preparing for a very special mission. I start making rounds, talking to many of the nearly 80 World War II Veterans about to take a trip of a lifetime.

They are heading to Washington DC to see the memorial built in their honor. For many of these veterans, it will be the first time they’ve ever seen it. The trip was provided by Honor Flight…an organization with one mission: to honor veterans for their sacrifice by sending them to their memorial in Washington DC for free!

As I speak to the vets, their excitement is easy to see. Many tell me this was a trip they never thought they’d be able to make. They are happy to talk about their appreciation towards Honor Flight, but when it comes to the war… most don’t tell me much.

Soon, we loaded the buses and headed towards the airport with an escort by local law enforcement and patriot guard riders. On the plane, some veterans start opening up to me and photojournalist Rich Brooks.  But still, the war stories were few and far between.

Two hour later we arrived in Washington, DC and the sight brought tears to my eyes.  A heroes welcome in the terminal.  A brass band played old war tunes.  A massive crowd waved flags, cheered and thanked each and every veteran for their service as they stepped off the plane. Watching their expressions, their reaction to this was truly one of the best things I’ve experienced.  I stood at the end of the reception line.  So many stopped and told me this was more elaborate then the reception they received when they returned home from war and one of the first times they’ve ever been thanked for their service.

At their memorial, even more thanks.  Most gasped to see how big it was.  They slowly made their way down into the memorial.  Facing the reflection pool and Lincoln memorial is a wall of stars. Each represents 100 service members who lost their life in WWII.  There are 4,000 stars on that wall! I felt a tap on my arm and saw one of the veterans standing beside me.  He told me about his experience storming the beaches of the Pacific, the men they lost and how lucky he was to be witnessing this moment when so many of his comrades didn't make it.  He told me that was the first time he’d ever told anyone his story.

It was amazing! The same veterans who didn’t want to speak about the war just hours before were now willingly sharing their stories. Luckily, Rich was around to record a lot of it on tape! The stories were unbelievable. Stories of the D-Day invasion, pilots being shot down by enemy fire and chilling tales from inside POW camps. I felt so privileged to be there at that moment.

From the memorial we took a quick trip to Arlington National Cemetery to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns.

By the time we got back to Atlanta it had been a 20 hour trip!  The elderly warriors seem renewed rather than exhausted by their whirlwind trip. 

Peharps because this was meant to honor these WWII Veterans who never asked for thanks. They went off to save the world and when they got home, continued on with their lives. They never asked for honors. The real honor, for me, was to spend the day with this great generation of heroes. It is a trip I am grateful to have the opportunity to take and one that I will never forget!

Today, if you see a veteran of any war, take the time to thank them!  I can tell you from experience, that small thanks means more to them then you'll ever know!

Click here to read more on this trip.

Or if you want to learn more about Honor Flight and their mission, click here.

soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. al hamel

    I saw your interview with the Marine today. A unique brave young Marine. My heart goes out to him and all the other troops. I could see it in your eyes, your overwhelming emotion for this young man. Great job Heidi, wonderful tribute.

    November 11, 2009 at 9:50 am |
  2. Art Suro

    Let's also remember the families of our veterans. They also sacrificed much, and now that I have a son serving I understand it better. To go into harms way for one's country is certainly to be honored; to keep the home fires buring while living with the fear of losing a loved one is to be equally honored. Thank you wife and sons for carrying on in the total of over three years of my absence serving in VietNam, Korea, and Turkey.

    November 11, 2009 at 10:54 am |
  3. djgirffin

    It was incorrectly reported that the by Heidi that the tomb of the unknown contained a Vietnam Veteran. The update from the Arlington Cemetery is below. RIP

    (The remains of the Vietnam Unknown were exhumed May 14, 1998. Based on mitochondrial DNA testing, DoD scientists identified the remains as those of Air Force 1st Lt. Michael Joseph Blassie, who was shot down near An Loc, Vietnam, in 1972. It has been decided that the crypt that contained the remains of the Vietnam Unknown will remain vacant.)

    November 11, 2009 at 11:06 am |
  4. Debbie Cochran

    This morning as I watched the president place the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, I would just like to correct the announcer who said that there are unknowns there form WWI, WWII,Korea and Vietnam. The Vietnam unknown is not interred there any longer. The body was identified several years ago. As one of the active duty personnel that was honored to help inter this person, I am proud to say that with the current DNA available, the unknown was returned to his family with the proper honors. Just thought you might want to check your facts in the future.

    November 11, 2009 at 11:15 am |
  5. Dodie ~ California

    I want to take a moment and thank all the veterans for their willingness to pay the ultimate price.... to lay down their lives in order to protect a country and a people that they cherish!

    . ((( THANK YOU )))

    November 11, 2009 at 11:57 am |
  6. Jorge Rios

    Thank you Tony for rerunning the piece "a flight...." There aren't too many occassions we have to honor our brave veterans. They are getting old and we won't have them too much longer. Thanks again, Tony. You are a good man.

    November 11, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  7. Sue McCarl

    Thank you for your tributes of our blessed Veterans. Dad was in the Pacific WWII, he is in Arlington now. Our Russian born adopted son is serving in Afghanistan with the Marines, his brother is preparing to sign up to follow the family tradition. This is always a special day for our family, but this year with Colin overseas, we pray more furvently for all of those deployed in the service of our country's missions. Bless all of those who have served and those who love and wait for their safe return. And God Bless you for all that you do in keeping us all connected. Lovingly Sue

    November 11, 2009 at 12:08 pm |
  8. Tara

    To all the Veterans today; past present and future THANK YOU!! I thank GOD everytime I see my brother (now living in our town again for good) A United States Marine always and forever that he is still here and that he fought for not only everybody else's freedom but for my freedom. Im so grateful and proud to have him as a brother!! To the family's supporting our Military Thank you! They need it more then you know. This is your day VETERAN'S we can never thank you enough but we try especially on this honorable day!! GOD BLESS!

    November 11, 2009 at 12:11 pm |
  9. Grant R. Fisk

    I applaud and thank you for the tribute you give to our veterans (including myself). However, not very much attention is being given to the vets who served in peace time. Please mention them also in this tribute.

    November 11, 2009 at 12:51 pm |
  10. Sondra Allen

    I want to thank my brother, Marvie Brown, and all other veterans who have sacrificed so much because they honored the "call of duty".
    My brother described his return from Vietnam on a recent visit. He stated he was in an airport in California following his release from duty, and that he was anxious and guarded because of the anit-Vietnam War sentiment. As he was walking in the airport to catch his plane, he saw two young women in long, flowing dresses , with flowers in their hair and a rose in their hands. He thought, Oh No!!! The two young ladies approached him, each gave him a kiss on the cheek, and handed him their roses. He states, I crumpled in a big sobbing heap on the floor. Another vet standing nearby, put his arm around me and comforted me. My brother said to me, " I will never forget their faces" . I would like to thank these two ladies who ever they may be for welcoming my brother home and making it easier for his to return. God Bless Them!!!!!!!!!!

    November 11, 2009 at 12:52 pm |
  11. Sarah-16 from Massachusetts

    today i give great Thanks to all the brave men and women that risked/lost their lives fighting for this country.i THANK YOU all for what you have done.i know it must have been hard for you all the stuff you had to go brother Nick is a United States Marine and i am grateful that he is alive an has not seen combat yet but i know in time he will and it will be the hardest thing to say Good Bye because i might not see him again after that he means the world to me and every chance i have spent wit him i take and cherish it and the day that he does have to leave i am breading that day with every ouch of me i love him wit all my heart.i say to all the family's out there that have lost one of their loved ones in the wars or has a loved one fighting in the wars now I Am Sorry for your loss and an your all in my hearts i don't know what i would do if i lost my brother and to the family's that have loved ones fighting now i hope and i will pray that they all come back safe and the Veterans i praise you u fought to make this country a better place and im sorry that we give nothing in renter for everything you have done for gave up everything to go over seas and fight a war sometimes to come back to nothing.I Am Proud to live in a country were people are brave enough to stand up and fight for it so today i stand up and say God Bless you all and I cant Thank You enough for everything you have done.Today is your day and so is every other one cause this country owes u that much.THANK YOU ALL and GOD BLESS YOU to all the family's of all those amazing men and women i say the same to you!

    November 11, 2009 at 1:01 pm |
  12. susan c

    today i watched president obama lay the reef for the unknown was amazing after 62 years that my daughter took me this year for my birthday and i was able to visit arlington cemetery and the graves of president john kennedy and bobby kennedy.when i watched the veterans that were given the chance to witness the changing of the guard,and the chance to visit arlington cemetery,i could now relate to it.knowing that i was sitting right there seeing what they are experiencing is just wonderful.i pray every day for our men and women, who have made the ultimate sacrifice,and the dedication,and their love for country.we take our freedom for granted, are able to walk outside ,breathe the fresh air,enjoy our families,and just live our lives because of the men and women in the dad passed away 4 years 22 he went into the army.i have all the memories of his stories of being a radio operator in ww2 and being in the battle of the bulge.when he passed away i needed to do something nice for him for his dedication,sacrifice,and love of country.he had a beautiful funeral that he so rightly deserved.having soldier playing taps,and having his coffin draped with the american flag.when the soldiers folded the flag .as only they can do ,and handed it to me,i felt so proud.veterans day has special meaning to me.i have many memories that i can pass on to my children,stories,newspaper clippings,and the american flag.god bless our soldiers.may they come home soon to be with their loved ones again,so they can tell their story to their children and grandchildren.we should always let them know how proud we are of them,and that we are always thinking of them and praying for their safe return.god bless america.

    November 11, 2009 at 8:28 pm |
  13. Margaret Mulberry

    Regarding the so called abortion ammendment. why is it that it's okay for all federal employees to be on a plan thru blue cross blue shield that allows abortions. . The money is paid by the employee and the government. They have always separated that money. Would like to know why the senators aren't against their plan. They don't have to use it. But the rest of us should have a choice just like they do.

    November 12, 2009 at 1:26 pm |
  14. michael armstrong sr. TX.

    Old warriors never die they just fade away most of the time with a little help from there friends and country God bless our army's.

    November 17, 2009 at 10:38 am |
  15. alex lyrics

    I am so glad that I was never the first black president.

    Obama has become the guinea pig for minorities running for president.

    It started out for change, and he got 70% of the vote.

    Then He was working to hard.

    Then he was not working hard enough.

    Then why doesn't he have a dog.

    Then when he get a dog.

    Then what kind of dog will he get.

    Then he got a dog,

    Then why didn't he get a dog from the pound.

    Then hes not pushing his campaign promisses enough.

    Then hes on TV too much.

    Then they tried to go after his wives sleeveless arms.

    Then they went after Obama wearing no shirt and shorts.

    Then they went after his wife again for wearing shorts.

    Then they tried to say he was racist.

    then they said hes taking too long making a decision on the war,.

    Then they say he isn't helping the gays.

    Then they say he isn't pushing health care.

    This is just a microscope of pressure from republican critics, and news media journalist trying to sell news.

    It is all ridiculous, Obama still has 80 % of the popular vote.

    The media hype's this crap up , and the pea baggers make up 2% of the population of voters. BIG WHOOP.

    I feel happy Obama is our first Black president, and so proud he is a great role model.

    How ever, you couldn't pay me to have taking this job.
    You also can never force me to believe that all the criticism isn't fueled by racism.

    People are looking at him like he is Sydney Portier in guess who's coming to dinner, wondering if the color will rub off on the sheets in the guest bedroom if we let him sleep over.

    We are treating a great President like an alien, and it is terrible. None of the things focused on are his actual work performance and policies.

    The majority of complaints have been about him showing respect for other world leaders.

    Oh my god a black man bowed to show traditional respect to a world leader or a king.

    How racist is that?

    He is trying Gitmo prisioners in the US. Well this is helping heal our reputation around the globe after George Bush created so many illegal war crime activities.

    History will show just how racist and unprepared for an African American president.

    Europe would have treated Obama much better over there. The Europeans are so much further advanced racially diverse than we are.

    Countries all over the world have embraced our leader President Obama, " WHY HAVEN'T WE ? "

    November 17, 2009 at 1:01 pm |

    TONEY- I really enjoy watching your programs and its just like your talking to me in my owen living room.I really enjoyed your tripp honering our older vets, that was as nice report. I am a vet from the earley vietnam era and although i had it made in the air force at HICKHAM AFB in hawaii it seem like the world and our country changed right before our eyes over there. I was an instument repairman in the air force and when we worked the flight line at night(my favorite shift) we witness our fighting men(just kids) pass through our terminal and later the body bags coming back.GARY POWERS went throuh on his mission and i personaly saw the U2 take off like a rocket since i was way out on the flight line. TODAY i wonder what these young warriers are thinking on their way to the war zone. THOSE old vets i know must have really felt good when you did the trip. KEEO up the good work toney because you have a special gift to give us all on curent events when their are voices on tv reporters shouting news at us and we all need your calm voice and smile to bring us the news. WE LOVE YOU AND CNN IN LOGANVILLE-SINCERLY- ROGER D JOHNSON

    November 19, 2009 at 1:48 pm |