Central Valley Honor Flight on Monday sent 68 military veterans and a support team on a three-day trip to the nation’s capital to visit monuments to their service.
The group that flew out of Fresno Yosemite International Airport included three women and 65 men ranging in age from 80 to 97 who served during World War II and the Korean War era.
“We understand that freedom isn’t free,” said Paul Loeffler, an Honor Flight organizer. “This is our way of giving back to them and letting them get to see their memorials for all their fallen brothers and sisters.”
Reedley veteran Charles Hudson, 84, got up at 3:30 a.m. and dressed in his original Navy suit for the sendoff at the airport. Most of the other veterans wore casual clothes along with flight’s official red jacket.
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“My original dress blues still fit,” Hudson said to another veteran who asked about the suit. Hudson served from 1950 to 1985. He ran boats that took troops onto beaches.
“Yes, we got shot at. Yes, we got hit, but nobody got hurt,” Hudson said about his experience. “The boat got hit.”
How does he feel about the Honor Flight trip? “Like a kid in a candy store,” he said with a big smile. “I hope to see everything I possibly can.”
It’s the 14th edition of the all-volunteer, nonprofit program formed in 2013 to fund flights for veterans through private and corporate donations. Part of this trip was paid for with a $28,000 donation from Food 4 Less Central Valley stores from Atwater to Porterville.
“Each year, our team chooses a beneficiary for our annual charity golf tournament fundraiser,” said Tom Gong, Food 4 Less president. “We are honored to work with the Central Valley Honor Flight to thank our veterans for their service and sacrifice to our country, and to help provide the opportunity to send them to Washington D.C.”
The group is scheduled to return at 6 p.m. Wednesday. The public is invited to come to the airport and welcome the veterans home.