WASHINGTON, D.C. — News5's Brie Groves and Photojournalist Kevin Reynolds joined this year's Honor Flight Southern Colorado trip to Washington, DC, for a trip allowing our veterans to see the monuments in their honor.
Their mission is to celebrate America's veterans by inviting them to share in a day of honor at National Memorials. It includes an all-expenses paid trip to the memorials in Washington, D.C., a trip many of our veterans may not otherwise be able to take.
Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the chance to share this momentous trip with other veterans, to remember friends and comrades lost, and to share their stories and experiences with each other. Honor Flight of Southern Colorado is part of the larger Honor Flight Network which is a group of 128 locally-affiliated hubs throughout the U.S. Honor Flight of Southern Colorado has already taken over 300 southern Colorado heroes to Washinton since starting in 2011.
WATCH: HONOR FLIGHT 17 VISITS WAR MEMORIALS
More than 58,000 names are etched on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall. Decades of guilt and pent-up emotion surfaced for our veterans during the visit to each memorial as they shared their stories of combat. Between the flashbacks and reflection of the past, at times the Vietnam wall serves as a place of comfort.
At the Korean memorial 14 soldiers, three marines, one sailor, and one airman make up the statues that represent a forgotten war. It was a war where a handful of our veterans from this trip answered the call to defend the country they never knew and people they never met.
The World War Two memorial is a breathtaking plaza that forms a ring of columns representing the United States. Inside stands the memorial of 4,048 gold stars each representing 100 servicemen who gave their lives in the war. A common theme of support followed us everywhere, sadly it's the support that was missing when our Vietnam vets came back home.
WATCH: THE VOLUNTEERS WHO MAKE HONOR FLIGHT POSSIBLE
The people you see in blue in all of this video are guardians. Some of our warriors could not make this trip without the caring assistance of the honor flight guardians who pay their own way and volunteer their time to be there for anything these men and women need.
Guardians play a significant role on every Honor Flight, ensuring that every veteran has a safe and memorable experience. Duties include but are not limited to, physically assisting the veterans at the airport, during the flight, and at the memorials.
Guardians must be between 18 and 70 years of age. They all have a common denominator and that is that they understand that freedom is not free. Click here to learn more about volunteering.
WATCH: ONE LAST MAIL CALL
Mail Call is a special surprise for all veterans who fly on an Honor Flight mission. Mail Call is made up of cards, letters, and pictures from family, friends, and their community expressing their appreciation and thanks to our veterans. It's a nostalgic throwback to when the veteran was deployed many decades ago. Those serving in the military relied on letters from home to keep up with loved ones. The letters from home provided a moment of escape from the war, today they provide overdue gratitude.
WATCH: HONOR FLIGHT VISITS TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier serves as a symbolic grave for all war dead whose remains have not been found or identified. The tomb began with one unknown service member from World War I, and today is the grave of three unidentified service members.
Its meaning has evolved to represent the memory of all military members throughout American history. Soldiers were first assigned to guard the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in 1926. In 1937, the guards became a 24/7 presence, standing watch over the Unknown Soldier at all times.
The changing of the guard takes months to perfect but only minutes to perform. The routine is characterized by practiced precision performed by sentinels who are members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment, known as “The Old Guard.” Soldiers who volunteer to become Tomb Guards undergo a strict selection process and intensive training. Each element of the routine has meaning, with the number 21 repeated to represent the highest symbolic military honor that can be bestowed: the 21-gun salute.
WATCH: HONOR FLIGHT CONFRONTS VETERAN'S PTSD
The Honor Flight itself brings our veterans on a journey that they may have never faced, healing that many could not have reached without this group surrounding them. It can be overwhelming and for some can trigger their PTSD.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health symptom for many Veterans once they leave the military. It is a challenging condition to deal with on your own, and it can also affect the Veteran's families and loved ones.
Those who served in the Vietnam War still frequently struggle with PTSD. Two local therapists donated their time to come alongside these men and women for those tough moments and breakthroughs. For some even being within eyesight of the Vietnam wall was a feat.
WATCH: THE 100-YEAR-OLD VETERAN ACCOMPANYING HONOR FLIGHT
On this trip was 100-year-old Robert Mossey, a retired United States Air Force Colonel, chaplain and former catholic priest. Bob joined the USAF in 1953 and retired with over 26 years of active duty. He has witnessed the tragedy from World War II and is a veteran of both the Vietnam and Korean wars.
"It can't be re-lived under the same circumstances they have to realize how much each of the soldiers gave. It's no place for a coward, it's a place for somebody who has to stand to defend what is right and what is good."
Honor Flight of Southern Colorado specializes in serving our veterans in this priority:
- World War II era veterans
- Korean War-era veterans
- Vietnam War-era veterans
- Veterans of any era who are suffering from a terminal illness.
WATCH: THE AIR FORCE VETERAN REUNITED WITH WIFE
Just down from the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a special spot for one of our Vietnam veterans. Retired Air Force Master Sergeant Brent Finses's wife is buried there. Brent has never had the chance to touch her headstone until now.
Penelope Holtmann Finses had a decorated career of her own with the Air Force. The two met at church as Penny was coming out of high school. She stayed back as he fought in Vietnam.
Brent shared with me stories of their many adventures. From being stationed in Europe, where they were both selected to be a part of the Queens Honor Guard, to making it to Colorado Springs where they received the Cadet Wing Saber award.
It's the highest honor to be given by the academy. More than anything, Brent spoke of Penny's love for God and people. The two didn't have any children and little family, which prompted Brent to choose Arlington, where he would be buried by Penny's side.
WATCH: HONOR FLIGHT RETURNS HOME
It's a generation of veterans whose homecoming was often filled with hate and disrespect. The Honor Flight program is more than just a trip to Washington, D.C. It is also the welcome home that most of our veterans never experienced. It was the welcome they deserved.
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