Service Members, School Children Honor WWII Vets

(By UTCN Marlene Houngdbedji)

GULFPORT/BILOXI INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, GULFPORT, Miss. (Sept. 21, 2011) Eighty-six World War II veterans took part in this year’s second Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight to the nation’s capital.  Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines from the Mississippi Gulf Coast answered the call to welcome a group of appreciative travelers back from Washington, D.C.  Among the service members were Seabees assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 11 and NMCB 74.

The one-day, free-of-charge trip provides these veterans a unique opportunity to visit the memorial erected in their honor.  It also includes tours of the Iwo Jima Monument, Arlington National Cemetery, Vietnam War Memorial, Korean War Memorial, and Lincoln Memorial.

The unveiling of a mural launched the festivities.  Commissioned by the Gulfport Airport Honor Flight Committee, the six feet high by eighteen feet wide oil painting is a “dedication to all men and women of the military past, present and future,” said its creator, local artist Stacy Baer.  She described her appreciation for the military as an integral part of the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s heritage.  Baer’s statement was validated by the nearly 3,000 supporters who showed up to cheer, thank, and welcome home the WWII veterans.

A one-hour delay in the D.C.-bound flight arrival nearly went unnoticed while volunteers from the Gulfport chapter of the USO provided uninterrupted entertainment.  The chartered aircraft landed shortly after 8 p.m., greeted on the tarmac by Marines from the Keesler Air Force Base Military Operational Area Forecast (MOAF) Platoon.

Seabees were positioned at the flight gate to welcome the returning honorees.  Veterans, some wheelchair-bound, were cheered by children and adults alike as they were escorted through the terminal to the airport exit by service-members.  “I’ve had relatives who fought in the Vietnam War, and I wished they could have received a welcome like this when they came back,” said Laura Hudson of the Resurrection Catholic School in Pascagoula, Miss.  “I’m very pleased that kids could come support these vets.”  The school organized a field trip to the airport and allowed a group of twenty 4th graders to attend.

Lines of service members remained at parade rest from the gate to the welcome area, adding a solemn note to an event that was deemed a success by organizers and participants.  “It was great from the beginning to the end,” said Army WWII veteran Richard H. Anglin of Gulfport, Miss.  “People cheered at us from here to D.C. and from D.C. back.”

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Honor Flight, a local non-profit operating out of its Gautier headquarters, is a chapter of the nationwide Honor Flight Network.

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