When troops return from overseas deployments these days, we usually see celebrations welcoming them home. But for many veterans of World War II, that didn't happen. There has been a nationwide effort over the last few years to correct that by bringing those aging veterans to the World War II memorial in the nation's capitol, and then giving them a proper welcome home.
For many, this is the final mission of a war that ended a lifetime ago. For 66 years these veterans of World War II have lived with the nightmares of battle, the loss of friends, the honor of victory, and the quiet dignity of a generation that saved the world.
"The real heroes that I knew and shared with on Iwo are dead. I wish they were here," says Marine Corps veteran Earl Flatt.
It's a heart-warming salute when 80 Louisiana veterans step off their plane in Washington D.C. It's a welcome home that's been missing for all of these years.
Today, Sidney Agnelly, who hit the beach at Normandy, is impressed.
"I came back home on a bus that turned on Canal Street and that was it. When we hit the airport it was indescribable. The people, the children, the signs that they made, it was remarkable," Agnelly said.
It was only seven years ago, in 2004, that the nation built the memorial to its World War II veterans. Those who fought in the Pacific and the Atlantic, and their major battles where so many lives were lost.
There is a wall of 4,000 stars, with each one representing a thousand Americans who died.
Hap Otillio can never forget what he calls the wretched condition of servicemen he saw returning to Hawaii, the survivors of battles in the Pacific.
"I feel teary because of all the people that died," Otillo says.
Our Louisiana veterans place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which had been guarded continuously every minute of every day since 1937.
Standing at the base of the Marine Corps Iwo Jima Memorial, Steve McMurray recalls a poem he wrote when he stood on the black rocks.
"It revises the memory of what we did there, especially those who were left behind. I will never forget them."
This is the 22nd Honor Flight from Louisiana in the last four years. And during that time more than 2,500 World War II vets from Louisiana have made this trip. And this will probably be the last one.
And as our Louisiana heroes return to the Lafayette airport, there is a welcome and an outpouring of gratitude that is beyond expectation.
It's a welcome home that perhaps has even more meaning now so many years later.
Louisiana has sent more of its World War II veterans to Washington on the honor flights than any other state in the nation. More than $1.5 million has been donated in Louisiana to cover the expenses of the trips.