KUSA - Hundreds of veterans and volunteers from Northern Colorado recently went to Washington D.C. to visit the memorials.
They were vets from WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
They served years and miles apart in far off places.
But they all have one thing in common: when it comes to their military service, they are “Brothers Forever.”
This was the 18th Honor Flight from Northern Colorado, and 9News photojournalist Manny Sotelo went with the veterans.
They gathered very early at a hotel in Loveland, and the surprises started right away.
The veterans were surprised how many people got up so early to wish them well on their trip.
They were also surprised when it was announced they would also be visiting the White House and meeting with the vice president.
And after they got on buses to Denver, they were surprised by all the people along the road, waving signs and flags and honking horns.
The Honor Flight veterans were starting a 48-hour journey that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
In Washington, there were dozens of volunteers at the airport to greet them.
One woman even piled on extra lipstick to make sure the smack on their cheeks left a mark.
After finally getting a little sleep, the Northern Colorado Vets visited the Iwo Jima Memorial, near Arlington National Cemetery.
It’s designed after the famous picture by Pulitzer Prize photographer Joe Rosenthal in 1945.
The photo is of the Marines raising the American flag over the tiny island 700 miles south of Japan.
It’s a tribute to all Marines, in all wars.
Even the Army veterans got emotional.
The next stop on the tour was the World War II Memorial.
It features the Freedom Wall, which has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who were killed in the war.
The Colorado veterans were welcomed and as they walked around the reflecting pond and pillars and arches, it brought back many memories of the war.
One vet who landed on Omaha Beach told us after the Allied victory in Europe, he was slated to go fight in the Pacific.
When the U.S. dropped the bombs on Japan the war ended and he got to go home.
He was very appreciative.
While most Honor Flights around the country focuses on WWII vets, many Vietnam veterans were also on this trip.
That’s why the trip to the Vietnam memorial was impressive.
America’s most controversial war stirs so many emotions, most of them negative.
But when they Vietnam vets placed their hand on the wall they felt honored, maybe for the first time since they came home.
The visit to the White House was also a stirring event.
The Coloradans shook hands with Vice President Mike Pence and listened as he praised their service on behalf of all Americans.
Three brothers on the trip who served in the military shared a picture of their mother with the vice president.
They were especially proud of her for encouraging their service, because she came to this country as an illegal immigrant.
It never affected her love for her new country.
On the way home the veterans were exhausted, but touched one more time by another surprise: Each one was given letters written by elementary school students in Northern Colorado.
Each one hailed as a hero by kids who only know about the wars from their school books.
Letters of appreciation, letters much appreciated.
Honor flights happen because of donations from people who want to honor our veterans.
Nationwide, more than 169,000 have made the trip since the program started in 2005.
It’s hoped any WWII vet who wants to go on a flight will get the chance to, but it’s tough since they are dying at a rate of 400 each day.
President John F. Kennedy said, “As we express gratitude, we must never forget the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them.”
It’s what Honor Flight is all about.
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