ASHWAUBENON, Wis. (WBAY) - It was a night of celebration Thursday, when the first Old Glory Honor Flight at Austin Straubel International Airport touched down.
Crowd lines up for return of an Old Glory Honor Flight at Austin Straubel International Airport (WBAY photo)
The "Flight of Champions" celebrates veterans from three different wars as well as the 200th anniversary of Brown County and the 100th season of the Green Bay Packers.
It's always an exciting night when Old Glory Honor Flight veterans return from their whirlwind trip to the memorials in Washington, DC, but it's even more thrilling for veterans who were accompanied on the trip by five former Green Bay Packers players.
Paul Coffman, Lynn Dickey, Mark Tauscher, Marco Rivera and Earl Dotson joined the crew of 70 U.S. military veterans flying out early Thursday morning. Veterans from World War II, the Vietnam War and the Korean War spent the day touring the sights of the nation's capital free of charge. (Read out their departure here.)
Organizers put out public appeals hoping at least 2,000 people would greet them with cheers as they came off their plane -- a homecoming that many tell us they did not receive when they returned from war.
That's part of what made this night so special.
"It was unbelievable. This is the welcome home that we never got, and it was a shocker. I couldn't believe all the people that were out here. It was just... I thought it would never end," Gerald Voigt Sr., a Navy veteran from 1969 to 1973 said.
"We left with a crowd. When we landed, it must have taken 20 minutes to move steadily through the crowd. It was maybe a couple hundred school children who had handouts," Dennis Strey, a Navy veteran from 1995 to 1977, described.
Each veteran on the flight received a football-shaped commemorative coin with the Old Glory Honor Flight logo on the front and Washington landmarks on the back along with the date and "Mission 48" in Roman numerals -- indicating the 48th Old Glory Honor Flight.
The organization is planning a special 15-day trip for Vietnam War veterans in February, "Return to NAM."