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Honor Flight 2022: Three days of pride and patriotism with military veterans

A recap of the memorable journey traveling with 85 veterans from San Diego to Washington, DC

SAN DIEGO — CBS 8 was proud to support Honor Flight 2022 where eighty-five veterans completed a three-day trip to Washington DC. Photojournalist Scott Hall and I were the only television crew from San Diego to take the trip. It was a life-changing experience for us. We'd like to recap our journey that was filled with patriotism and pride.

Honor Flight San Diego is called a tour of honor because for three days the heroes come first. Last Friday, 85 veterans and their guardian companions arrived at the San Diego International Airport before the sun rose. After take-off on a chartered American Airlines plane bound for Washington DC, the beloved tradition called 'Mail Call' began. Honor Flight volunteers delivered nearly five thousand letters of love and support to the veterans in mailbags. Some of the letters were written by family members, others by strangers.

Credit: CBS 8

"You have many fans here," said Honor Flight volunteer Donna Hester as she passed out the mail. 

101-year-old Army pilot Dudley Gladding was the oldest Honor Flight veteran. "Thank you for your time, bravery and service," said Dudley as he read one of his letters. "I had 40 missions over the Philippines and the Pacific," said the Army pilot. Dudley failed to mention that the enemy shot him down on his 31-st mission but that's the humility of a hero.

Credit: Dudley Gladding

"I can't see so well, I have glaucoma," said another hero by the name of Andy Bowman. 

I read several letters to Mr. Bowman. One stated, "You have given so much for this country. I am so thankful for you, and I hope that your trip to the nation's capital is memorable." 

Mr. Bowman fought in Korea but never thought he'd be thanked by a stranger. "It feels good, I won't be able to see what the monument says but I can envision what it says," said Mr. Bowman.

Credit: CBS 8

In Washington DC, proud Americans lined up to honor the Greatest Generation. The veterans visited Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknowns, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, as well as other historic sites. 

"It just means the world, it just brings back all of the memories," said Marine pastor Pete Mayfield. During WW II, Pete watched his Marines raise the victory flag at Iwo Jima. "Halleluiah," said Pete with a twinkle in his eye.

Credit: CBS 8

Surrounding the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery is filled with graves of heroes who didn't make it home. "I look at those tombstones out there and I think I am just one of the lucky guys," said Marine and Navy veteran Roy Grigsby. In the 1950s, the Marine fought in Korea at a time when back home in America he was told, "Go to the back of the bus, go to the back, you cannot sit in the front, go to the back," said Grigsby. Roy told us he was not allowed to eat in the dining hall with his fellow white Marines. Instead, he was told to eat in the kitchen while seated on a five-gallon bucket of lard.

Credit: CBS 8

These stories of sacrifice and valor came from veterans who made this trip for comrades who couldn't. "I lost a lot of friends, I lost a lot of buddies, I'm alive, that is the main thing," said 100-year-old Pete Sanzo. The Army soldier stormed the beaches of Normandy.

"I was lucky to go and come back," said veteran Frank Corona who survived Korea with his Army buddy Lou Benavides. We watched Lou sit in his wheelchair soaking in the sights with his family huddled around him. "Oh, my goodness, I cannot describe it, I just want to cry," said Lou. "It's great to be alive, to be a veteran. I get emotional."

RELATED: 'Hero Homecoming' | Honor Flight 2022 returns to San Diego

The next time you see a veteran please show your appreciation. It means the world to them. Vietnam veteran Jack Gauthier read a letter of appreciation. "This note is about you and your service and how proud I am of you," read Jack. He is dying from cancer but the gratitude he feels makes him feel alive. "I love everybody, and I plan to stick around as long as I can, I want more memories," said Jack.

RELATED: Honor Flight 2022 Day Two | Veterans visit nation's memorials

These are the veterans who fought for freedom. "I would not have missed it for the world," said Annine Jack. The 87-year-old Navy Corpsman veteran was the only woman on the Honor Flight.  Following the return flight to San Diego, veterans were met in Terminal Two with a 'Heroes' Homecoming'.  Police estimate a crowd of more than a thousand San Diegans held signs, clapped their hands, and whooped it up for the heroes.

RELATED: Honor Flight 2022: 85 American heroes fly to Washington D.C.

Veterans once met by bullets were ambushed by appreciation.

Korean War veteran George Arrollado was overwhelmed by the support.  The Purple Heart recipient was wounded in Korea when a mortar shell exploded in front of him. 

I rode down the escalator with Army veteran Lou Benavides.  Lou cried as he said, "This is the first time anyone ever did anything for me." Lou told us this was the first time he was thanked for fighting in the Korean War. "Thank you, this made my day. I did this for America. I love this country," said Lou with his eyes filled with tears.

Participation in an Honor Flight trip gives veterans the opportunity to share this momentous occasion with other comrades, to remember friends and comrades lost. The Honor Flight Network was formed in 2005 by Jeff Miller and Earl Morse. While originally focused on honoring our nation's World War II veterans, the Honor Flight Network now also honors those who served in the Korean War, Vietnam War, intermediary operations, and in special cases of terminal illness or injury, veterans from more recent service eras. Since its formation in 2005, the Honor Flight Network has taken more than 245,000 veterans to Washington D.C.

Honor Flight is an all-volunteer, donation-based non-profit organization.  To learn more information, click here.

WATCH: 'Hero Homecoming' | Honor Flight 2022 returns to San Diego: