June 5, 2013
Updated Jun 5, 2013 at 7:04 PM CDT
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- It is estimated that over 2,500 people turned out Tuesday night at the Peoria Airport to welcome home the Veterans who took part in the inaugural Greater Peoria Honor Flight.
Just 15 hours earlier, 81 veterans and guardians took off from the General Wanye A. Downing International Airport for a jam packed day in the nation's capitol.
The Veterans were greeted at Reagan Airport by members of the honor flight ground crew and recognized by passengers waiting for their flights.
The first stop, the World War II memorial. For many it was a chance to reflect on the time they spent serving nearly 70 years ago and on those who did not return.
World War II and Korean War Veteran Nick Anton said, "I looked over their names last night before I came and I thought I'm dedicating this trip to them. They were so young."
There were surprise visits during the day from central Illinois politicians. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, former Congressman Bob Michel and current rRpresentatives Cheri Bustos and Aaron Schock all spoke with the group.
"It's good to welcome them here," said Michels. "The memorial is a very special thing for World War II vets. It was nice of them to make the effort to come."
Just under half of the veterans on the Peoria honor flight served in World War II, the others in the Middle East, Korea and Vietnam.
Vietnam vet Dave Augsburger came to the wall looking for any name he recognized.
"All the guys I knew we all split up when we got out of training and I lost touch with almost everybody," said Augsburger. "I'm just trying to look up a few of their names and maybe it's good that they're not in here."
After seeing the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, there were quick trips to the Iwo Jima and Air Force Memorials before the final stop of the day to watch the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
When Dave Augsburger returned from Vietnam there was no parade to welcome him home.
"We couldn't walk through the terminal.They had to have the buses go out to the tarmac pick us up with the shields on the buses," said Augsburger. "There were protesters all over the place, throwing rocks, swearing."
When Augsburger and the other 80 veterans returned to Peoria Tuesday night, things were very different.
"We were in the service almost 60 years ago. When you're in nobody paid any attention to you," said Korean War veteran Ted Connelly. "But 60 years later here we are. What a trip! What a trip!"