Hundreds of people turned out to the Baldomero Lopez State Veterans Nursing Home on Aug. 20 to bring “Honor Flight” to veterans unable to travel to Washington D.C., to enjoy the whirlwind experience.
Instead of boarding airplanes, these veterans walked down the nursing home’s corridors, or were wheeled down — receiving hearty applause and cheers from well-wishers.
“This is your big day,” one woman told a vet, as he rode by.
“Are we ready to have some fun?” another woman asked.
The nursing home was awash in patriotic colors.
Red, white and blue balloons bobbed near the ceiling. There were sprays of stars. Red, white and blue bunting decked the walls.
Family members snapped photos, and people who had lined up along the corridor’s walls, approached veterans, to thank them and shake their hands.
As the veterans made their way toward the dining room — where the main event was staged — they were entertained by a band playing a medley of military tunes. There was also music from the World War II-era and other popular hits.
The veterans also had a chance to stop and have their photograph taken in a pose with a woman wearing military apparel.
Once the vets arrived in the main dining room, they were honored by individual military branch, entertained by singers and had a visit from Santa’s Drill Team Honor Guard.
They also heard remarks from the keynote speaker, U.S. Brig. Gen. Richard K. Sele.
Then, they watched a video, which offered a virtual tour of the war monuments in Washington D.C. — the same tour they would have had, if they’d been able to make the trek to the nation’s capital.
Some veterans at the nursing home, however, couldn’t even make the trip to the facility’s dining room.
Those veterans were given the opportunity to watch the event via a live-streamed, closed-circuit broadcast, in their rooms.
There were also too many people to fit into the dining room. But, they could watch it via big screen TVs in the nursing home’s common areas.
It took two years of preparation to organize the event, which was spearheaded by Operation Patriot and Honor Flight of West Central Florida.
In addition to family members of the veterans, more than 200 volunteers showed up to help get the veterans from their rooms to the dining room and to attend to them during the event.
Each veteran received a white Honor Flight shirt and a ball cap. They also received a goody bag containing several gifts, and a manila envelope filled with letters and other items during mail call.
Finally, as they were guided back to their rooms, the veterans were greeted with a warm round of applause from those gathered for a “Welcome Home” receiving line.
Published August 24, 2016