NEWS | Oct. 15, 2015

San Antonio pays tribute in honor flight welcome home

U.S. Army North Publice Affairs

Terminal B at the San Antonio International Airport brimmed with anticipation on a late Saturday night, as more than 100 San Antonians gathered to welcome home 16 returning war veterans Oct. 3.

Children waved American flags and “welcome home” signs while adults readied cameras to capture the moment.

Dozens of Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen stood at attention in their service uniforms, lining the entrance hallway. Upon the command of “Present, Arms” they snapped their arms in unison with crisp salutes as the veterans rolled into the terminal. Yes … rolled into the terminal.

From his wheelchair,  retired Army Col. Tom Morris, a 105-year-old Soldier who fought on D-Day and at the Battle of the Bulge, led 15 other World War II and Korea veterans into the throng of admirers.

The veterans were returning from an honor flight trip to Washington, D.C., where they toured the nation’s capital, including the memorials dedicated to the wars they fought in.

The San Antonio de Valero “hub,” or chapter, of the National Honor Flight Network charity sponsored the trip.

The San Antonio de Valero hub was established in 2014 and has sponsored three trips over the past 13 months supporting a total of 71 veterans.

“Our goal is to pay tribute to America’s veteran heroes by providing them the opportunity to travel to Washington D.C. cost free to visit their memorials,” said retired Senior Master Sgt. Court van Sickler, hub chairman.

The hub supports 48 counties in south Texas with a priority for World War II veterans and any veteran with a terminal illness.

“We are also accepting and evaluating applications for Korean War and Vietnam War veterans that meet the National Honor Flight Network criteria,” he added.

After touring the nation’s capital, the final event for the honor flight’s two-day odyssey was the welcome home ceremony back in San Antonio.

“I heard about it at work and just wanted to come out to show our support for the veterans,” said Army Staff Sgt. Mario Allen, a combat veteran.

Allen trains combat medics at Fort Sam Houston as an instructor at the U.S. Army Medical Department Center and School. Allen, his wife Ph'chesta, and their son, Elijah, all planned their Saturday night to take part in the ceremony. For Allen, it was a chance to expose his son to some living history.

“A lot of these people have quite a bit of age under them, so it’s nice that they’re still around to share their stories and for us to thank them,” he said.

Van Sickler said the Honor Flight program is always looking for help as the San Antonio chapter starts to plan its next flight.

There is also a third way to help, by volunteering to be a “guardian” to assist those veterans without family members during their journey.

“Personally, I truly enjoy the smiles on the veterans’ faces when they realize that, after all these years, they are being recognized for the sacrifices they made,” Van Sickler said. “I also get a smile on my face and a great feeling of joy in my heart.”

Before the veterans left to go home for much-needed rest, the smiling veterans were treated to a short ceremony and presented tokens of appreciation such as photo books and quilts. The outpouring of support was a little overwhelming for some, and the smiles were soon mixed with tears of gratitude.

“Considering what they’ve done and the occupation that I have, I figure it’s the least we can do to show our appreciation for the service they provided for their country,” Allen said.