DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (KFSM) -- A whirlwind trip to the East Coast gave military veterans the opportunity to see memorials that have been built for wars they fought in.
"It's really a well-thought-out monument, and I think everybody should see it," World War II veteran Ray Randall said. "It's just wonderful."
Seventy-four veterans, with members from each branch of the military, left Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport on Wednesday morning (April 20), and headed to Washington DC.
Many of the men and women had never been to the nation's capital, and excitement had already spread across their faces before the flight even landed.
"It's pretty awesome stuff," Korean War veteran Bruce Mumford said. "I haven't been around this many veterans since the service."
Veterans from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War made up the group. They were greeted at the airport with live music upon arrival, and Arkansas lawmakers U.S. SenatorJohn Boozman and Congressman Steve Womack met up with the group hours later.
Age was hardly a factor in holding back the military veterans from seeing as much as they could. Looking forward to the trip for weeks, many of them spoke of how much they felt honored at each stop.
"Being treated with respect is very much appreciated," Vietnam War veteran Bill Fant said. "Just for somebody to say thank you makes you feel good."
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall captured the attention of the veterans.
Tears were shed. Memories were revisited. Many stood in silence, choked up, as they scanned across the thousands of names, thinking of fellow military heroes, whose lives preceded theirs.
Perhaps the climax of the trip was visiting Arlington National Cemetery and witnessing the changing of the guard.
"You never forget what you went through," Fant said. "It's just a wonderful experience."
The experience would only continue to surprise the 74 veterans on their return flight home.
After the plane departed Washington DC, O&A Honor Flight volunteers distributed packets, filled with handwritten letters and drawings from school children for each veteran.
Smiles spread across the faces of each veteran as they read the personal notes of thanks, written by kids not yet old enough to comprehend the meaning of military service, but know what it means to sacrifice.
A long day ended back at XNA, as the flight landed at 10 p.m. However, the time of the day did not hold back hundreds of Arkansas from showing their support of the group of veterans.
Waiting for the military heroes to descend an escalator in the lobby were more than 500 supporters, along with volunteer groups, greeting the 74 veterans and their guardians, who accompanied them on the trip.
As the American flags waved through the air, that same symbol for which they fought to protect, the veterans raised their hands and blew kisses to the crowd.
"It's overwhelming," Randall said about the trip. "It just overwhelms you."