ARLINGTON NATIONAL CEMETERY - It's a ceremony usually reserved for our nation's leaders and dignitaries. But, local World War II and Korean War veterans got to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown.
The rare opportunity happened last weekend during Honor Flight Kern County's seventh trip to our nation's capital. It was the first time in our Honor Flight's history, our veterans have had this chance. Only four were permitted to make the presentation. But, a 17 News camera went along with them, capturing the honor.
"I'll let you know when to start walking," said a guard at the Tomb of the Unknown to our local veterans.
They were receiving final instructions as they stared down the path so very few ever get to take. They wait at the side entrance to the Tomb of the Unknown platform, waiting while guards meticulously move their wreath to the other side of the tomb. The ceremony can now begin.
Four randomly chosen Honor Flight veterans, Marion Soto, in a wheelchair, Marcelino Hernandez who was being pushed by Jimmy Morris, and John Knowlton to his left, followed the guard to the center of the platform.
"Boy, they give you instructions like boom, boom, boom. And, we all kind of looked at each other. Did everybody hear that? Well, we checked our hearing aids and we weren't sure and we started out," said Knowlton.
Once in the middle, they are guided to turn, facing their wreath and the soldiers known only to God. Moving forward, Marcelino Hernandez reaches out to grab their offering and help place it, paying their respects to soldiers here and the ones they fought next to, who didn't make it home.
"I still remember a lot of my friends that lost their lives.They were with us, together," said Hernandez. "You laid it for them?," we ask. "Yes," answers Hernandez.
As the guard lifted the wreath away, Marion Soto, in hospice care, found the strength to salute. This moment is a one and only, and for him it's unforgettable.
"No, it will be with me until there is no more," said Soto.
After the guard places the first ever Honor Flight Kern County wreath in front of the tomb, Taps marks the end of this honor for these veterans and the others on this Honor Flight Kern County journey. All once laid their lives on the line for our country, and they leave a personal piece of respect laying for the ones who never had this chance.
"Awesome, that was very awesome. That's about all I can say," said Jimmy Morris.
"It was a very touching experience to think that what we were doing," said John Knowlton.