Nearly 70 World War II veterans from across the San Joaquin Valley received a hero's welcome Thursday evening at Fresno Yosemite International Airport following a visit to their war memorial in Washington, D.C.
The old soldiers and sailors were part of the third Central Valley Honor Flight to take veterans to see the World War II Memorial, dedicated in 2004 on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The group of 67 vets and their escorts, or "guardians," left Tuesday morning on a chartered jet for the whirlwind three-day trip.
After landing Tuesday in Baltimore, the vets — many of whom are nearing 90 years old — took on a sightseeing schedule that, between clambering off and onto buses and a good deal of walking, could be grueling even for younger visitors. Wednesday's agenda included stops not only at the World War II Memorial honoring their service in Europe and the Pacific in the 1940s, but also at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the Iwo Jima Memorial to the U.S. Marines near Arlington National Cemetery and the Women in Military Service Memorial at the entrance to Arlington.
Before flying home Thursday, guides led the veterans on visits to the Korean and Vietnam war memorials on the National Mall and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington.
The Central Valley Honor Flight is part of the national Honor Flight network that works to provide all-expense paid trips for the aging and shrinking population of U.S. World War II veterans. Each vet is accompanied by a guardian, often a family member, who puts up $1,000 to cover their cost for the trip. The Valley unit serves veterans in a seven-county region from Stanislaus County to Tulare and Kings counties. The region's first flight was in October, followed by a second group in April.