For 38 WWII vets from across the Capital Region, a recent trip to Washington D.C. was anything but an ordinary flight.
It was what's called an 'Honor Flight.'
On Saturday April 28th, FOX23 News Reporter Julie Tremmel, and Photographer Peter Busa had the privilege of traveling alongside the group of unique, diverse WWII vets as they embarked on the "Flight of a Lifetime."
It's an incredible story about a group called 'Leatherstocking Honor Flight Network.'
The non-profit raises money all year long just to make life better for local WWII military survivors.
About four times a year, the 501-C provides free flights to Washington D.C. for dozens of deserving, grateful WWII vets, and it's all thanks to the generosity of complete strangers who donate and volunteer their time.
Much like the other trips, for the April 2012 group of participating veterans, the Honor Flight experience began with a van ride from various meeting points and nursing homes across the region, to Albany International Airport.
Even though it was before 6 a.m., each vehicle filled with veterans was escorted by dozens of motorcycles from area clubs anxious to support the cause, and despite the cold, Honor Flight drew well over 200 patriotic riders and their bikes for the big send off.
From the moment they set foot at Albany International, the 38 WWII vets from around the Capital Region were given the respect, dignity, and honor they've earned.
It's an honor that's, perhaps, been lost in the shuffle.
An honor that's been overlooked and unmentioned due to the fast paced life we live.
It's an honor brought back, by this 'Flight of a Lifetime.'
"We're honored to be here with you. Thank you," said a speaker at the podium in the baggage claim area of Albany International.
The official send off included greetings from Congressman Paul Tonko, and geared up as vets boarded a plane bound for Washington D.C.
"Welcome aboard to our WWII veterans," a Southwest Airlines pilot said.
Once on the ground at Baltimore Washington International, the commercial jetliner was showered with a 'ceremonial water arch,' a privilege afforded only to retiring pilots, retiring planes, and Honor Flights.
But the journey hit a fever pitch near Washington D.C. at the airport with hundreds of current servicemen and women waiting to greet them.
"Wooooo hoooo!" The chorus of chants and whistles could be heard throughout the entire terminal.
The vets surprised by a heroes welcome on their way to the memorial built in their honor, and dedicated to the memory of so many of their comrades who didn't make it home.
"Sir, thank you for your service," one female Navy sailor said shaking a veterans hand with both of her hands at the same time, looking him directly in the eye with a smile.
And that grand greeting set the tone for the entire day, the overwhelmed faces of the vets, many with tears in their eyes, telling most of the story.
Percy Angle is a WWII veteran from Mechanicville.
After making his way through the long receiving line he said, "The whole experience has been unbelievable. I was just a plain bomber on the B-17. I can't believe all of these men, finding out where they all served, and the way they served their positions. It was really great."
"I had a beautiful time," WWII Army veteran Kenny Graves of Cobleskill said.
"It's something I'd have never seen if we hadn't of come down here. I would have never saw it, you know? And I really appreciate it," Graves said with a huge smile, and a tear streaming down his left cheek.
The crescendo of the trip, undoubtedly, was completing the mission at hand, with each of the veterans happy to get an up close tour of the official WWII Memorial itself.
"Oh boy, what is this?" Angle asked as an Honor Flight volunteer pushed his wheelchair away from the tour bus, and towards a huge, loud crowd of people.
"Wooooo hoooo!" the cheers becoming louder, and more obvious the closer Angle got to the entrance of the memorial.
"Thank you! Thank you!" the voices of hundreds yelled, with signs waving, and colorful cards being handed in Angle's direction.
"Thank you! Did you draw this?" Angle said to a little girl who handed him a purple card made of construction paper.
Angle said, "All of this for us?"
Once again, tourists and citizens of Washington D.C. greeted these men with a welcome fit for a true hero.
In fact, the entire experience was so moving, that some visitors in the receiving line to meet the vets as they arrived, broke down.
On the right side of the long line of people, two young girls could be seen crying and hugging.
When asked why they were so affected by meeting veterans like Percy Angle, Kaylin Henson of Prattville, Alabama said, "Just seeing what they did for us, and knowing how they feel, and what they were doing just to save us? Just to help us…"
Henson's voice then trailed off as she broke down into tears, and put her hand up to her lips.
Our reporter asked, "Does it leave you speechless?"
Henson answered quietly, "yes."
And even though the memorial itself was an amazing memory, these veterans say it was the people, the fellow vets and other visitors they met during the trip, that will stick with them for the rest of their lives.
"Some people just went by, several of them, patted me on the back and said 'thank you,'" Angle said.
"Now I think I have a picture of it to show my family when I get home," he said.
And the Air Force veteran had the chance to take this 'Flight of a Lifetime' all thanks to Leatherstocking Honor Flight.
Organizers say the non-profit group is now more dedicated than ever to acknowledging the way veterans' like Percy served, and paying homage to their sacrifices.
Leatherstocking Chair Greg Furlong said, "Well, we don't say 'see the memorial,' we say 'experience the memorial.'"
And 'experience' is exactly what they did.
"I want to thank everybody that was involved in putting this thing together. It's quite remarkable what they've accomplished," Angle said of the trip.
And the Honor Flight story doesn't end there.
These WWII vets visited other key memorials in Washington D.C., and even had an audience with Former Senators Bob and Elizabeth Dole just outside the WWII memorial.
Please continue to follow the journey of these veterans', on Thursday May 3rd on FOX23 News at 10 p.m.
For more information about the Honor Flight program click here.