Special weekend for Kentucky veterans during Honor Flight

Published: Apr. 24, 2023 at 8:11 PM EDT
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KENTUCKY (WKYT) - Over the weekend, a special flight landed at Blue Grass Airport loaded down with some particularly important cargo.

Honor Flight Kentucky gives veterans the chance to travel to the Nation’s Capital to see the war memorials in their honor.

WKYT’s Amber Philpott was along for the first flight of 2023.

Philpott and Videographer Barton Bill were able to experience the very moving trip through the eyes of some of the Kentuckians who have proudly served our country.

The day starts early inside Blue Grass Airport.

There is a roll call that includes getting your picture made and a final briefing before the mission.

“There is no greater honor than to stand before you today and thank you for your service,” said Ret. Brigadier General Ben F. Adams.

The assignment for the Kentucky veterans is simple, enjoy a day solely planned around them in the nation’s capital.

With bagpipes playing, veterans from the Korean War to the Vietnam War were saluted as they headed for their flight.

A hero’s sendoff at 0800 hours, the men and women leaving under the flag so many once left their Kentucky homes to go and fight for.

In the air, the more than 60 veterans and their guardians settled into the wild blue yonder preparing for what awaited them in Washington, D.C.

Once on the ground, it was another hero’s welcome from complete strangers.

The first stop of the day, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the veterans taking in its size and a statue that depicts a fellow Kentuckian.

“To come in and see something like this, this is amazing, the first one to see how huge it is and what it means,” said Donald Bowker, a veteran from Corbin.

At that same memorial, we found a young woman looking for her grandfather, and for one veteran from Barbourville, his trip was about to get even more special.

“Want to go see Papaw?” said Elizabeth Delgado.

Mixed in among the veterans taking in the memorial statue was Charles Douglas, his granddaughter and active military member, Elizabeth Delgado, was about to pull it off.

Delgado found her grandfather, who truly was surprised to see her walk right up to him.

Delgado, who is in D.C. for a short tour before heading back to Officer Training School, wanted her little girl to share in this moment with the veteran who helped raise her.

“To see them and know this is about them, I get to do what I do every day in my job because of what they sacrificed and did,” said Delgado

For Delgado, it seems being in the military was always in her blood.

“My dad was Air Force 23 years, and my husband served in the Marine Corps for four, and so it came my turn,” said Delgado.

At Arlington National Cemetery, we were honored to watch the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and also witness four Kentucky veterans take part in the wreath-laying ceremony.

As one of only three female veterans on the flight, Air Force veteran and Georgetown resident Marolyn Hale told us she couldn’t believe she was chosen for the somber task.

“It was chilling. As I was standing there looking at it, I was thinking of all the people who stood there before, and it was like I’m standing here. I could not believe they asked me to do it, but to be standing there where so much history has been made was awesome,” said Marolyn Hale.

The weather on the trip threatened to put a damper on the day, but to these veterans, a little rain was nothing.

For those who fought in Korea, there was time spent at their memorial, but there was also another wall, the Vietnam Memorial, where many spent about an hour taking it in and looking for fallen friends.

A large number of the veterans on the trip served in Vietnam.

Donald Bowker went there in 1970. He was one of many searching the rain-slicked wall for fellow comrades.

They are names that Robert Langley was also searching for.

“I went to Vietnam twice, first time to Cam Ranh Bay, the second time I went Khe Sanh and to Da Nang, up on the DMZ, Robert Langley.

Langley says the day was emotional, and he knows for so many, finding just one name on this wall among so many was worth it.

“I found one that was a friend of mine,” said Langley.

He says it’s the trip home that perhaps will be the most meaningful of his mission.

“It’s almost like coming home again. When we came home the first time, we weren’t welcomed, so we are coming home again,” said Langley.

For many, the day is emotional, and it stirs up the past, but then there is “mail call.”

Each Honor Flight ends with veterans opening a packet full of letters and cards.

We sat with Richard Morgan from Paintsville as he opened his packet.

We asked him about the day, for him, it included taking part in the wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington.

“I loved that trip, it brought back a lot of memories, but they were good memories,” said Richard Morgan.

Like every mission, it must come to an end.

But for these veterans, many years removed from their service, they boarded a plane back to their old Kentucky home, taking with them a day that reminds them just how appreciated their time spent serving truly was.

“People just don’t realize what something like this means to someone my age or my colleagues. We are not done yet. We’ve got a lot of miles left in us, said Richard Plymale.”

Kentucky Honor Flights are made possible by donations and volunteers who dedicate their time to planning each flight.

To donate, volunteer, or learn more about Honor Flight Kentucky, click here.