SAVOY — Their flight was delayed for more than an hour, but 65 veterans made it back to Willard Airport after a long two days touring Washington, D.C., and seeing the memorials that were built in their honor.
When they returned, they were greeted on the airfield by flashing lights of emergency vehicles, hundreds of cheering supporters and an American flag draped on the ladders of two fire trucks.
"I think this is an amazing thing," Neil Madden, a veteran out of De Land, said of the trip while he was still in the capital city on Friday.
The group was this week's Honor Flight out of central Illinois. They were flown out of Willard Airport on Thursday morning to see a number of sites in Washington, D.C., like memorials for each military service branch, the World War II, Vietnam and Korean war memorials, the Air and Space Museum and Arlington National Cemetery.
Madden spent the two days in his military uniform, making him a walking tourist attraction among the war memorials and museums he traveled to visit.
"I seem to attract the most attention," he said.
Strangers approached him throughout the two days to take pictures with him and thank him for his service — "old people, young people, high school" age, Madden said.
Dean Scarborough of Farmer City said seeing the World War II memorial was the highlight of the weekend for him.
"That's why I came," he said.
Scarborough had visited Washington in the mid-1990s, he said, but he had never seen the World War II memorial, which didn't open until 2004.
"That's my memorial," he said.
It could be one of the last flights with only World War II veterans. Central Illinois Honor Flight has one more flight scheduled this year. They've flown more than 1,300 World War II veterans to the capital city, and plan to start booking Korean War veterans next year.
Dave McDevitt was one of the original organizers, many of whom had been on more than 10 flights to guide and assist the veterans literally every step of the way. He said he got involved to thank the veterans for their service.
"Most people do, but a lot of people don't," McDevitt told a group of veterans on Friday. "But we can take these things for granted because you didn't."
Scarbrough brought his son, Bob Scarbrough, and his granddaughter, Brittany Bettinger, as his "guardians." Each veteran on the Honor Flight was assigned one guardian to escort them through the two-day trip, but Scarbrough managed to get two on.
Bob said it was an "awesome" trip, and he returned to Farmer City with "a better appreciation of what my father has done."