When the Hall County Hero Flight committee was established in 2009, no one could have imagined how far the mission would soar. The 10 flights have carried more than 825 veterans and their escorts over 26,000 air miles in a quest to honor their service and sacrifice to a grateful nation.

This 10th flight will carry two World War II, 16 Korean and 78 Vietnam War veterans on an agenda-packed, three-day trip to the nation’s capital to visit war memorials and other sites of interest.

The highlight of the trip is always the solemn, touching, laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Four veterans were selected to take part in this honor at last week’s flight orientation meeting. Only war veterans and family members of those who made the ultimate sacrifice can truly appreciate the solitary communion of this ritualistic ceremony.

Months of planning go into the preparation of these trips and Hall County Veteran Services Officer Don Shuda and his staff attend to every painstaking detail in an effort to provide the best possible experience for the trip to D.C., which has often been noted as the lifetime highlight for many veterans.

In addition to Arlington National Cemetery and the war memorials, the tour group will visit Fort McHenry, Embassy Row, and the storied Caisson unit and Officers Club at Fort Myer, where they will be feted with a banquet lunch. Fort Myer is known as home to the “Old Guard,” the 3rd United States Infantry Regiment, the oldest active duty regiment in the U.S. Army, originating with the First American Regiment in 1784.

The Nebraska group will also once again be hosted for dinner at American Legion Post #177 in Fairfax, Va. Post #177 has graciously accommodated the Nebraska veterans on a number of visits. On the second night of the trip, the group will enjoy a dinner banquet back at the hotel where retired Major General Galen Jackman, (hometown Gering, Nebraska) will give a memorable keynote address as he has done for most of the Hall County Hero Flights.

The Hall County Hero Flights could not have been made possible without broad support from residents throughout Central Nebraska and the business community. The monthly hamburger nights at the United Veterans Club — some 120 of them — have been a staple source of revenue as all of the labor and most of the food has been donated. A special thanks goes out to the United Veterans Club, JBS and McCain Foods for their steadfast support of the Hero Flight fundraisers.

This newspaper has also been involved from the very beginning to ensure the program’s success. We will share stories and images from Washington, D.C., with our readers so they can experience the trip through the eyes of our veterans.

We urge the community to turn out for the welcome home reception at the Central Nebraska Regional Airport on the evening of Oct. 9 in order to give our veterans a long overdue, proper homecoming as a show of appreciation for their service. Details to follow.

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