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Utah Honor Flight returns home to hero’s welcome

SALT LAKE CITY — After a whirlwind two days in Washington, D.C., 74 veterans with the Utah Honor Flight returned to the Salt Lake City International Airport late Saturday night to a crowd even the organizers themselves didn’t expect.  

KSL’s Alex Cabrero went along on the trip and was there at the airport to witness a celebration most of the veterans never experienced when they first came home.

“We love you!” someone yelled from the gathered crowd.

“Woo!” shouted another person.

More than 500 people were at the welcoming section of the airport, not because of a celebrity coming in, but because of people more important.

Utah veterans from World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam War, Desert Storm, and others, returned to Salt Lake City after taking part in the Utah Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

The Utah Honor Flight brings veterans to some of the sights and memorials in our nation’s Capital as a way to say thank you for your service.

“It was amazing for our first flight back after COVID,” said Stephanie Harmon, who is the chairperson of the Utah Honor Flight.

This flight was the first Utah Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. since November of 2019.

Normally, the group does six flights a year but had to cancel them because of the pandemic.

Harmon said 13 Utah veterans have died waiting for the next flight.

For this flight, about 75 veterans made the trip, and the big crowd of family, friends, and others at the airport made sure to give them a hero’s welcome.

“I thought that there would be two or three family members per vet,” said Harmon. “This is not what I expected at all. This is amazing.”

“USA! USA!” the crowd started cheering as the first veterans appeared.

With every step forward those veterans took, or with every roll of a wheelchair tire many of them made, the sheer size of the crowd was revealed.

“I’m amazed,” said one of the veterans.

“This crowd is awesome. It’s just awesome,” said another veteran with tears in his eyes.

Sometimes, a feeling is so new, the words to describe it haven’t even been invented.

“I’ve never seen this before, and I don’t know how to handle it,” said a veteran with his voice trembling at the hundreds of people cheering.

Sometimes, it can take decades to understand that yes, people do appreciate what you did.

For most World War II veterans, the tickertape parades were long over by the time they came home.

The Korean War was called the “Forgotten War” for a reason, because they returned to a country where many were simply tired of war, preferring to pretend it didn’t happen.

And for Vietnam veterans, many were treated with contempt and disgust when they landed at an airport to head home.

This airport arrival was different.

“Makes me feel proud,” said a veteran.

“Welcome home, sir!” said a man in the crowd who tried to shake as many of the veterans’ hands as possible.

“Never thought I would see it happen,” said a Vietnam veteran.

Sometimes, the weight of bad memories can be lifted in a single night and sometimes, words aren’t enough.

“Thank you, thank you,” yelled many people in the crowd.

Sometimes, you don’t need words at all.

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