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Alaska Honor Flight veterans return home

By Joe Vigil 9:18 PM May 10, 2014

I just spent four days with some of the bravest men and women in history.

They ended up in oceans after their ships were torpedoed and planes shot down by the enemy. One World War II veteran received a Purple Heart after suffering severe frostbite to his feet during the Battle of the Bulge. The service didn’t provide covers for his boots because his feet were too big.

A woman who lives in Fairbanks flew brand new war planes from U.S. factories to the East Coast. From there the planes were sent to war overseas. But for some reason many of those vets don’t think what they did is a big deal. I don’t care if you pushed papers or cleaned toilets: If you participated in any war, for any reason, you are a big deal because I’m free.

But today some of those vets finally realized that they are a big deal and that people really do care about what they did.

Today they returned home from Washington D.C.after an “Honor Flight.” It’s basically a free trip to D.C., with the help of many donations from many good people, to visit war memorials built just for them.

They did not expect what awaited them in Washington.

From the minute veterans walked into the airport in Anchorage, to the minute they walked out those same doors today, people were all over them. People — especially kids — wanted to be near them, wanted to shake their hand, wanted to talk to them. I have never seen anything like it in my 23 years in television news.

I could never describe in words how people received them in D.C. All I can say is, you should have seen those smiles. Ear-to-ear grins and the laughter made me cry a bunch of times. And then to see Alaskans turn out Saturday for the homecoming was fantastic.

Veterans told me then they now truly feel appreciated.

I guess what I don’t understand is why it took so long for them to realize that. Welcome home, everyone. I am truly thankful I brought my wife and kids to the airport today.

It was an honor to ride the tour bus with you.

It was an honor to visit the memorials with you.

It was an honor to get to know you.

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