Twenty-five World War II veterans expected to be reminded of their service as they stood in awe before the WWII Memorial in Washington, D.C., but they didn't expect to receive the welcome home ceremony they never received returning from the war.
"It was really a surprise, I'll tell you," Belleville resident and WWII veteran Glenn Holtz, 92, said. "It's what I thought it would be and 100 times more."
Holtz, along with Belleville WWII veterans Ardell Miller, 88, and John Genetti, 89, traveled Tuesday through a program called Honor Flight, which flies as many veterans as possible to Washington for free to visit their memorial.
Honor Flight requires the vets be surprised with a warm welcome. Military service men and women, city officials, volunteers, and friends greet the vets clapping and cheering when the flight returns.
"There's no way I can explain," Holtz said. "It was amazing."
Miller said the feeling he got hearing a band along with the applause and gratitude when they returned is difficult to describe.
"It almost choked me up. ... It brought tears to my eyes. I didn't expect that kind of a showing," Miller said. "It was very impressive to me. Of course, I'm just an old country boy."
Genetti, who served as a torpedo bomber in the Naval Air Corps, said he was impressed by the various war memorials that they visited.
"The first stop we made was to the World War II Memorial," Genetti said. "I have not seen that one before, but I have seen most of them. I have seen the Korean War Memorial. Of all of the ones, I thought I liked the Korean War Memorial the best."
"We also went over to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That was very impressive."
The vets also were surprised with a military-style mail call they knew all too well years ago, which takes place in the Washington airport as they are preparing for their journey home. They received notes, cards and letters from family, friends and even people they don't know to read during the flight.
Holtz said the mail call reminded him of being 20 years old again.
He said he didn't think he'd ever get to go on the trip, and finally experiencing it was indescribable.
"I think all the men that went on the trip ... you could tell they were all happy," Holtz said. "It was something they probably dreamed about for years."