CEDAR RAPIDS — Eastern Iowa Honor Flight on Tuesday will launch its 35th year helping veterans visit historical sites and war memorials.
The first flight of 2019 — Flight No. 35 — is scheduled to depart at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday from Eastern Iowa Airport. On board will be one World War II veteran, 25 veterans of the Korean War and 71 veterans of the Vietnam War.
Veterans and their guardians will travel to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery and other memorials.
“It’s a day filled with tears and laughs. There’s lots of ups and downs,” said Allen Stekl, Eastern Iowa Honor Flight board member and former president of the nonprofit.
Stekl said oftentimes the return to Iowa, where members of the public are encouraged to greet veterans when they arrive at the airport, is often one of the more emotional moments.
Many of the veterans, especially those who served during the Vietnam era, may never have received a true welcome back following their service, said Bruce Adams, Eastern Iowa Honor Flight spokesman.
“It can be a very emotional experience for a lot of veterans. We find it means a lot for them,” he said.
Tuesday’s flight is estimated to return at 8:45 p.m., barring delays. Members of the public should arrive early to welcome veterans home from their flight. Participants can park for free in the long term and short term lots — passes are provided in the terminal.
Stekl encouraged those planning to attend to try to carpool, as the parking lot can fill up. He said previous welcoming parties have drawn close to 1,500 people.
Since operations began in 2009, the nonprofit Eastern Iowa Honor Flight has transported nearly 3,000 veterans and their guardians to Washington, D.C.
While some honor flight organizations concluded operations when no more World War II veterans were available in their area, Stekl said the Eastern Iowa Honor Flight — which serves Linn, Jones, Benton, Tama, Iowa, Johnson, Marshall, Jasper, Poweshiek and Washington counties — plans to continue with other military veterans
Adams said while a few years ago flights included 10 to 15 World War II veterans, having one veteran of that era has become more common.
“The numbers have really shrunk in the last couple of years,” he said.
While there is a waitlist for veterans interested in participating, Stekl encouraged interested people to apply.
Tuesday’s honor flight is meant to also honor area firefighters and first responders in Eastern Iowa. Future honor flights will take place this year on May 21, Sept. 17 and Oct. 15.
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