SAN ANTONIO – It was a hero's welcome Saturday for 40 veterans returning to San Antonio, not from war but from Washington, D.C.
The World War II, Korea and Vietnam veterans were coming home from a two-day trip to the nation's capital organized by the nonprofit group Honor Flight San Antonio. The former military members had a chance to see some of the memorials to their service before returning home to a cheering crowd of hundreds of people.
"Well, everything today kind of humbled you a little bit, you know? Because, I tell everybody, I always saw things like this. I never was a part of it," said Korean War veteran Joseph Dubray.
The crowds lined the ticket lobby of San Antonio International Airport's Terminal B. Families waited with signs in their hands for their first glimpse of their returning heroes.
"He's 90 years old and this is the first flight he's been on. He's never been on a plane," said Lily Heaner, whose husband, Ward Heaner, served in the Navy in World War II.
Many in the crowd, though, had no personal connection to the returning travelers. Instead, they came out of respect.
"They served our country, and it's a privilege and an honor to be here recognizing them," said Jody Frain, who brought her children as well.
As the veterans were wheeled through the airport, a boisterous welcome, complete with music and gifts, was a warm finishing touch to what had already been a special trip.
"I seen things I could never believe out there," said Ward Heaner, the World War II sailor and first-time flyer.
Heaner seemed amazed by the whole trip, which he said included a police escort, and even 72 years after the end of his war, the memorial still caused him to reflect.
"You think about how many people died," he said. "It's really something."
There are more than 100 people on the waiting list to take one of these honor flights. The next one is scheduled for May, and the group plans to keep going until nobody wants to go anymore.