SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — Bagpipes, balloons, flags, singers, and even Uncle Sam greeted Maine's latest group of Honor Flight veterans as they returned from a weekend visit to the nation’s war and military memorials in Washington, D.C.
The crowd of more than 150 people packed into the Portland International Jetport terminal to cheer the veterans after they got off the plane.
It was the final piece of a weekend-long tribute to their military service, which for these veterans occurred 50 to 75 years ago.
"I was in Vietnam and Cambodia,” Roger Couturier, an Air Force and Army veteran who served in the Vietnam War, said.
When asked whether he got a welcome when he came home from that war, Couturier shook his head.
"We did not," he said, surrounded by grandchildren. "But we’re sure getting it now.”
The veterans marched or rolled in wheelchairs past the double lines of well-wishers, cheering and waving at their loved ones as they returned from Washington.
For Honor Flight Maine, it's an essential part of the experience to make sure veterans feel appreciated.
Many Vietnam veterans in particular have complained for years how they were shabbily treated when they came home from that controversial war.
Others, who served during the Korean War or in the long old war years, also had no ceremony to praise their service when they returned home. Honor Flight looks to correct that.
“Unbelievable. It's so nice to see your people, your wife and your kid,” Joe Massey, a Marine from Lewiston, said as he stood with his wife and adult daughter.
"We’re here to support my dad,” his daughter, Anita, said with her arm around her father. "He’s always been there for us, so we need to be there for him.”
The Honor Flight group numbered nearly 100 in all, including veterans, escorts and Honor Flight support volunteers. Many of those people were younger veterans themselves.
They all received a big welcome from passengers at the Baltimore-Washington Airport on Friday, and thanks from people at the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials.
Sunday was close to home, with thanks from those who know them best.
Henry Dumont, who served in the Army in the years between Korean and Vietnam wars, said the welcome home was, for all of them, long overdue.
"I can’t imagine how we missed everyone, missed in our age (group) and what it's like to have all these people come to greet us on this day, its great.”
For Honor Flight Maine, that is the mission. The group is planning five more trips this year.