A long-time Lompoc friend, a World War II veteran, offered information about a special tour he was given to Washington, D.C. Honor Flight Central Coast California, a privately-funded organization, honors war veterans by flying them at no expense to our nation’s capitol to see war memorials, national monuments and more.

Having served above the 38th Parallel in the Iron Triangle during the last year of the Korean War, I applied for the trip. I got a call from an Honor Flight Board member saying they were prioritizing WWII veterans first, and may not get to me until 2019. Then came the surprise.

In mid-October, Honor Flight Kern County was short of honorees for a flight and requested the Central Coast Chapter to fill in with vets. I got a call asking if I’d be available on Nov. 1. My excited answer was in the affirmative.

I downloaded trip information and attended the pre-flight luncheon in San Luis Obispo, where I met other veterans and the Honor Flight Board of Directors. Most of the vets were accompanied by a family member or a friend.

The one thing I was lacking was a person to accompany me on the trip to D.C. as a guardian, a necessary requirement, but that turned out to my advantage, as I was assigned the official photographer for the group as my guardian. She turned out to be a truly wonderful, caring person to whom I will always be thankful.

The Central Coast group flew out of the San Luis Obispo Airport early in the morning. We met up with the Kern County group in Phoenix, then flew on to Baltimore Washington International, arriving in early evening. On board were veterans from WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars, from north Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County.

Upon landing we were taken to dinner, driven by bus to see many of the famous Capitol monuments lit up in the hours of darkness, then to the Sheraton Hotel where we were assigned rooms on the fourth floor. The Sheraton had its roof antennae sheared off by the plane that flew into the Pentagon on 9/11. Our window looked out in direct line of that flight.

The next day and a half was filled by visiting monuments, and in particular, war memorials where veterans memorialized by a specific site were singled out for a photograph and the placing of a wreath. Two of our WWII vets later placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Every detail was taken care of by Honor Flight personnel, including getting us to the House of Representatives before their session began, to be addressed by House Majority Leader McCarthy from Bakersfield, and our own Congressman Carbajal.

D.C. weather was in our favor. Our bus was led through the traffic by a motorcycle cop going full blast with siren and blinking lights. Talk about feeling important! At airport waiting rooms, our group was applauded as we came off our planes. I wasn’t the only vet close to tears at such attention. Our return flight terminated at SLO Airport where we were again greeted by an appreciative crowd. I can’t find the adjective to describe the whole adventure.

At our later reunion of flight veterans and others who were involved, I came across another old Lompoc friend, a WWII vet, who had made the flight preceding mine, as well as a Lompoc lady friend who was a support person.

Any qualified war veterans interested in Honor Flight can click on www.HonorFlightCCC.org. The local chapter of the national organization, Honor Flight Central Coast California, is also looking for donations to continue their splendid work. Their address is Honor Flight CCC, P.O. Box 1750, Paso Robles, Ca. 93447.

Al Thompson is a Lompoc resident.

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