The veterans on board Kern County's third Honor Flight are settling back into their normal routines after a busy weekend in our nation's capitol.
The Honor Flight is meant to be a 'thank you' to these veterans who saved and helped shape the world we live in today. But, so many times on the trip, the gratitude came from them, grateful for the community donations that paid to send them there.
Kern County's honor flight left for D.C. via Phoenix.
"Welcome to Phoenix! Welcome, welcome," said the greeting crew from Phoenix.
It was like traveling with rock stars. There were signs, clapping, and people stopping just to say 'thank you.'
"It's been a fun day, but it's been hard for me. Too much praise," said World War II veteran Elmo Oxley.
But, the people of Baltimore thought they were worthy. A passenger shot video of the water salute from the terminal. And inside, more cheers, hugs and handshakes overwhelming some who had no idea the importance of just their presence.
"I'm telling you, you can't ask for anything better than this. This is a great opportunity," said Sandra Ziegler, a passenger from Houston just happy to see the veterans.
On the second day, the first stop was the World War II Memorial. Even with the fountain not working, it's meaning was intact.
"It's beautiful. I've never seen anything like it. I'm glad for the people that sent me out here. I appreciate it. I sure do," said World War II veteran, Elmer Defrese.
"Some of them will come up and touch you and say nice things. It was touching," said World War II veteran, Raymond Easton.
During a personal tour of the Capitol, spontaneous cheers once again humbled our local heroes.
"Well, I think it was for these other guys, not me," said World War II veteran, Arthur Hefner of the cheers.
Even getting off the bus to see the Korean War, Lincoln and Vietnam Memorials, Kern County's Honor Flight veterans, all in their 80s and older, were still learning about how much they are appreciated.
"It almost brings tears to an old man's eyes. But, I really appreciate what you all have done," said World War II veteran, Jack Nichols.
"It's an experience I will not forget," said World War II veteran, Claude Gasio.
On the last day in D.C., a stop at the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. More memories came back and were created.
And, at the Tomb of the Unknown, the veterans watched the meticulous changing of the guard ceremony. And afterward, they again were swarmed, this time by high schoolers from Boston. The students were full of questions and appreciation. In a day where trophies are displayed in a spotlight, many of these veterans have Purple Hearts tucked away in some drawer at home, too humble to offer up any mention of what they did, until now.
"It tears me up a little. I mean, you know, a lot of years too late," said World War II veteran, Claude Gasio.
And, just when they thought the trip was over, organizers planned one last surprise on the flight home. It was mail call. Letters, some from relatives, others from children, all saying 'thank you.' They came with hugs, quivering chins, smiles, and tears. After all they saw in D.C., things that were so big, the little things still mean so much. A plane ride, some water, and a 'thank you,' can and did change lives.
"As I move around here and think about how nice people have been and how considerate they've been, it's made me a little bit softer in my heart. I just can't express my gratitude. Thank you so much, for all of you," said World War II veteran, Raymond Easton.