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A homecoming for heroes: Veterans return from Honor Flight

By Airman 1st Class Caitlin Russell | 673d Air Base Wing Public Affairs | Oct. 26, 2018

JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — Twenty-three veterans from various cities and villages in Alaska went on a whirlwind three-day trip to Washington, D.C., as part of the Last Frontier Honor Flight, whose mission is to ensure veterans are able to visit memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifices.
Veterans visited the National Mall, stopping at the National World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Other excursions included the U.S. Air Force Memorial, U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery and the U.S. Navy Memorial.
Since the start of the Last Frontier Honor Flight in 2013, the program has impacted the lives of 81 veterans. Nationally, the program has helped 150,000 veterans visit to those memorials.
While most states have an Honor Flight program, Alaska was lacking until Ron Travis and his wife, Linda, decided to change that.
“Being a Vietnam veteran myself and my dad being a World War II veteran, I thought it was important to start the Last Frontier Honor Flight to honor the veterans,” said Travis, president and co-founder of the Last Frontier Honor Flight.
While the program has been in operation for several years, this is the first time veterans received a welcoming ceremony from Airmen with the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson Airman Leadership School, and their friends and families. Approximately 120 Airmen were at the airport to welcome the veterans home.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Michael Felicio, Professional Military Education instructor, who deployed several times and came back each time to an airport full of “welcome back” signs, said he knew the importance of offering the same homecoming experience to the veterans.
Once veterans landed, they were also surprised with the Alaskan Celtic Bagpipes and Drums band and a procession which ended with a ceremony. The event included government officials, who spoke about the importance of remembering veterans who have served, and the Quilts of Valor foundation, which gifted each veteran a handmade quilt.
“Being a part of the welcome back was an honor. I felt emotional, and my eyes were tearing up as I walked alongside a war hero who fought for the freedoms we enjoy today. It was probably one of my proudest and most memorable moments in my six years of service,” said Senior Airman Gabriele Tulao, 673d Medical Group dental laboratory technician, who pushed the wheelchair of a Korean War veteran during the event.
As a final sign of gratitude, Airmen and community members stopped to thank and shake hands with the veterans for their service and sacrifices made.
“My grandfather used to tell me stories about his return from Vietnam,” said U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Brandon Thomas, grandson and Last Frontier Honor Flight guardian of William Watson, a Vietnam veteran. “He was spit on and things were thrown at him. This homecoming was the exact opposite of that. It was one that he, and everybody in the program, deserved.”
The Last Frontier Honor Flight program supports events like this throughout the year. Veterans and community members who would like to participate can visit the organization’s website at https://www.lastfrontierhonorflight.com/.
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