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Honor Flight Pays Tribute to Area Veterans

Over the weekend, nearly 80 veterans were given the trip of a lifetime.
Over the weekend, nearly 80 veterans were given the trip of a lifetime.

The veterans started arriving at the Greater Binghamton Airport before 6 a.m. Saturday morning.

There were 52 who served in World War II, 26 who fought in Korea and 1one from Vietnam.

Arriving at Washington's Dulles Aiport, the veterans were greeted by firefighters, who hosed down the plane, and then by military members, cheerleaders and others as the veterans came into the terminal.

The first stop on this Honor Flight, which is meant to thank the veterans for their service and sacrifice, was Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. They arrived just as the changing of the guard was taking place.

Carl Eldridge from the Town of Maine is the Vietnam veteran.

Being at the Vietnam Memorial was extremely emotional for him. He knows the horror of war.

"I waited over 40 years to get here. It's really hard to express,” said Eldridge.

“Carl is such a hero. He was wounded numerous times in Vietnam. He has almost died a couple of times, a family tragedy like you wouldn't believe, 82nd and 101st airborn,” said organizer DeAnna Deneen.

"I didn't think I'd ever make it, ever,” remembered Eldridge.

At the Korean War memorial, a Korean woman came up to one of the veterans, looked him in his eyes and thanked him for his service.

Ollin Evans was in Korea as a surgical technician and sniper.

Similar to others, it was difficult to be at the memorial because it brought back strong memories.

The tears run down my eyes all the time. When you've got men in your arms hollering for help and we don't have the medical equipment or nothing, it's brutal,” said Evans. “I was even ashamed to tell my dad that I was a sniper and out there. Why? The Bible says you shall not kill. I"m not a hero. The heroes are the ones that didn't come home."

The World War II memorial honors the majority of veterans on the flight, like John Malik of Binghamton who was glad to see it.

"I was a radio operator-gunner of a B-24 in China, Burma, India,” said Malik.

And Robert Nesley - the oldest veteran on the trip. The Saint Louise Manor resident in Dickinson will soon be 98.

This is the first time that I've been in Washington in 60 years and I'm very much enjoying myself. / It's very special being here,” said Neslev.

The man who paid for the trip, including chartering the plane for 160 people and three buses is Jeff Gural, the owner of Tioga Downs.

"I wanted to do it because they deserve it. This is the greatest generation and there's no question about it.I thought obviously these guys are aging out and it's a great opportunity to show my appreciation for their service,” said Gural.

The veteran who organized and founded Twin Tier Honor Flight is DeAnna Deneen.

"It has been so gratifying and I sure hope my daddy is proud of me sitting upstairs someplace watching down knowing that this is how I remember him,” said Deneen.

It's 10:30 p.m. back at the Greater Binghamton Airport and little did the veterans know the surprise that was waiting for them - a heroes welcome.

Hundreds of people, military members, boy scouts, family, friends and strangers gathered to say thank you.
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