ST. LOUIS — The Greater St. Louis Honor Flight celebrated a major milestone Tuesday, taking its 100th flight. The group has become only the second Honor Flight in the entire country to fly 100 missions.
Our 5 On Your Side crew was at St. Louis Lambert International Airport Tuesday around 3 a.m. as the veterans arrived to board the chartered Southwest Airlines plane to Washington D.C.
The flight took off ahead of the scheduled 6 a.m. flight time, as flight leaders tried to ensure the group would land ahead of another honor flight scheduled to arrive in the nation’s capital at the same time.
We’re told there were 58 veterans on board the historic honor flight, all who’ve served in WWII, Vietnam and Korean wars.
There were two WWII veterans, 13 Korean War veterans, 41 Vietnam War veterans and two veterans who’ve served in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.
We spoke with one of the WWII veterans on board the flight who is celebrating 75 years to the day since his service ended. Ken Schibler served in WWII from Nov. 1, 1945- Nov. 1, 1947.
We talked to him about his service.
“I was in the Pacific during WWII. We helped the Army and the Marines into Japan after the surrender. I was on a heavy cruiser,” he said. “I’ve never been to D.C. – well I’ve been there once but just for a quick time. We’ve just been looking forward to it.”
While in Washington, D.C. the veterans have plans to visit the Vietnam Memorial, World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Marine Corps Memorial (Iwo Jima statue), the Air Force Memorial and will witness the Changing of the Guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
Four of the veterans will place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We spoke with one of the wreath bearers for this trip, Vietnam veteran Eddie Powell.
“I’m really proud and happy I’ve been able to be selected for this. Some people I've never even seen, didn’t even know – we talked for two or three seconds and it’s like day one, like we’ve known each other forever,” he said. “It’s been a good experience and to know there’s going to be more after this, I’m just excited!”
Another Vietnam veteran, Gary Hillmann, said he’s making the trip with his four best friends from high school, all of whom served in the military.
“It’s been two and a half years since we got this together. When I first called and signed up, I said, ‘It’d be really nice if I can go with four of my best friends from high school.’ She said, ‘You just have to get them to call me and fill out all the paperwork.’ I go, ‘That’s going to be tough, but I can get them to do it.’”
The Greater St. Louis Honor Flight workers made it happen for this group of friends.
“The people who did this honor flight are just amazing. Most of them are volunteers, it’s amazing,” Hillmann said.