ST. LOUIS — Honor Flights are once again taking off from St. Louis Lambert International Airport. It's the program that takes military veterans to Washington to see war memorials and other sites.
It's the first St. Louis area honor flight since March 2020.
"The sad news is that, because we were grounded for so long, many of the veterans who were scheduled to go last year have passed away," said Jim Pettit, operations director for the Greater St. Louis Honor Flight. "So, that makes it even more critical that we go today and that we take more veterans than we normally do. We're taking 58 today, where we normally take 22."
Tuesday's flight marked the organization's 95th since 2005. To accommodate more veterans, Greater St. Louis Honor Flight chartered a plane for the first time. It will do so again next month and for a flight in October.
Onboard the flight were 41 Vietnam War veterans, 11 Korean War veterans and five World War II veterans.
The vets traveled with a companion, often a son or daughter.
"Oh, it's going to be fantastic," said Korean War veteran Charles Van Doren, who lives in Maryland Heights. "I've never been there and just to go see all the memorials and the Unknown Soldier and all that. And it's good to have my son along with me at this time."
Korean War veteran Al Haller, who lives in Kirkwood, said he was looking forward to reconnecting with other vets.
"Getting together with all of these people again is a real treat and a real thrill because you lose track of a lot of the people over the years," Haller said.
Perhaps the oldest passenger on Tuesday's flight was Edward Spiller Sr. of Kirkwood. The 98-year-old World War II veteran was flying for the first time in his life.
"It's a blessing that he's able to go and see the memorials. He's 98 years old, he's in his right mind. It's just a blessing," said Spiller's son, Edward Jr.
The group will return around 8 p.m. Tuesday.
It's a long day but one that will leave lasting memories for these military heroes and their families.