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Lexington Medical Center trustee Dr. Tripp Jones only had to look for a moment to see what inspiring and service-minded people had gathered at the hospital on Tuesday.
“Don’t you wish we could take this group up to Washington and run Congress with them?” he asked about the crowd of local veterans.
As Jones explained, the veterans and their guests had come to LMC to be treated to a special screening of a short film. Not only did the piece share their stories of personal military service, but it also featured many of the veterans’ on-the-spot interviews from the recent Honor Flight.
The hospital system sponsored its first Honor Flight in May and more than 100 veterans (30 World War II veterans and 70 Korean War veterans), guardians and family members flew to Washington, D.C. for the one-day trip. Joined by LMC physicians and staff, the veterans toured the World War II Memorial, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and Iwo Jima Memorial. Arlington National Cemetery also hosted the group as honored guests.
Since 2007, Honor Flight of South Carolina – part of the national Honor Flight Network – has been providing these free, once-in-a-lifetime trips for veterans who fought bravely for their country. Flights take off from Columbia, Charleston, Greenville-Spartanburg and Myrtle Beach.
On Tuesday, the veterans from the May Honor Flight were brought back together to enjoy the short film put together by the LMC marketing team. For many it was a chance to see good friends again, too.
Such was the case with Bernie Holton, Jimmy Rigdon and Lamar Oldham. The closest of comrades since they went through basic training at Fort Jackson, the trio was able board the Honor Flight and visit the memorials together six decades after they first put on an Army uniform.
“We became bosom buddies and still are,” Holton said. “We get together now to talk and eat.”
As Holton pointed out, the three are good luck to each other, having met their wives together as well.
It was Honor Flight guardian Jim Wertman who accompanied the men to Washington, D.C. this summer. With tears brimming in his eyes, Holton recalled how moving it was to see the monuments that depict how many boys didn’t come home.
Though parts of the trip may have had a sadder ring, the veterans’ spirits were surely boosted when they arrived back in Columbia. Local citizens young and old greeted the Honor Flight passengers with loud cheers, banners, “thank you” posters and plenty of waving American flags as they made their way through the airport. For Holton, seeing that people appreciated his service after all these years was a highlight of the eventful day.
“My favorite part was coming home,” he agreed.
Oldham echoed that the patriotic show of gratitude was something to remember.
“It was hard to keep from crying,” he said.
After being given a hero’s welcome this summer, the deserving veterans were again treated like stars at Tuesday’s reception and debut of the documentary. Along with LMC staff, they watched in rapt attention as several were featured prominently through interviews given as monuments loomed in the background. Everyone got to relive the homecoming ceremony by way of the film, too.
Before leaving, each veteran was given a commemorative book and a copy of the short film.
Jones summed up the heart of the Honor Flight Network mission – to let these dedicated, and often highly decorated, veterans know their service is still greatly valued to this day.
“You are not forgotten. You are our heroes,” he said.
Click here for more information on Honor Flight SC.