Fresno Yosemite International Airport was packed Wednesday night with family and friends waiting anxiously for Central Valley Honor Flight members to arrive after a nearly five-hour delay.
The flight touched down in Fresno around 10:30 p.m.; its originally scheduled arrival time was around 6 p.m.
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Five veterans and 10 others who took the flight to Washington, D.C., to view veterans memorials and other sites in the nation’s capital this week were unable to make it back to Fresno on Wednesday. The veterans, and the aircraft pilot, developed an illness that caused fever, nausea and stomach issues. The airline refused to let them onto the flight to avoid spreading the unknown illness.
Despite the wait, sounds of patriotic music filled the airport, along with balloons, banners and people who wore colors of the American flag. In the back of the crowd, Anita Hudson of Fresno awaited her father, Ishmael Solis, a Korean War veteran, and her stepson. Hudson’s husband, who served as an escort for another Korean War veteran, didn’t make it home Wednesday night, as he came down with symptoms Tuesday night.
Al Perry, a Central Valley Honor Flight member who has served as a trip leader in the honor flights 12 times, spoke to the crowd during the hours-long wait.
“You will give them the welcome home they (the veterans) never got,” he said.
Shouts from people who came from as far away as Visalia, Squaw Valley and Livingston bounced off the walls when Paul Loeffler, a Central Valley Honor Flight board member, asked the audience to call out their hometowns.
“I can’t wait for him to get here,” Elizabeth Dittrich of Clovis said about her husband who served in the Air Force. Dittrich, who was waiting along the aisle where veterans would come through, held a glittering red and blue sign that welcomed her husband. She recalled previous years when her husband was serving in war.
“When he was overseas, I could tell you how many hours were left in a week. I could tell you how many days were left in his tour,” Dittrich said.
Loeffler invited the public to come back Thursday night to give the remaining five veterans an equally warm welcome. The veterans will arrive by an American Airlines flight from Dallas at 6:20 p.m.