Heroes Return To Tyler
By BRITTNI BARNETT
A crowd of about 100 people, smiling ear-to-ear and carrying large American flags, were on hand Saturday evening to welcome home 33 East Texas veterans from a three-day trip to the nation's capital.
The thundering roar of the Patriot Guard Riders' motorcycles preceded the charter bus that carried the veterans to the Brookshire's store at 100 Rice Road in Tyler.
The trip was part of the fourth WWII Heroes Flight, sponsored by Brookshire's and Super 1 Foods.
Polly Morman, a member of Welcome Home Soldiers, was one of those waiting to welcome the men home from their Washington, D.C., adventure.
"We don't have a lot of time left to show these men how much we appreciate what they've done," Ms. Morman said. "And you can bet I will be hugging every one of their necks when they get off that bus."
Brookshire's employee Tina Saxon, of Gresham, served as a volunteer on last year's trip. Her father was a World War II veteran.
"You wouldn't believe it," Ms. Saxon said. "When we landed in Washington, D.C., the entire airport was standing and clapping and saluting. I'm not kidding, the whole airport shakes."
Dale Whitton, of Tyler, a former Brookshire's vice president, served in the U.S. Marines from 1943 to 1945. Whitton was one of the veterans who went on last year's flight and came out Saturday to welcome home this year's group.
"I enjoyed it (the trip) so much," Whitton said. "So, I wanted to come and show my appreciation for them."
As the bus came to a stop in the parking lot, the crowd surrounded the doors clapping and cheering as the men exited.
Noel Parker, of Tyler, one of the veterans who went on the trip, served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946. He first served in a military police escort guard company at a prisoner of war camp for Italian soldiers in Hereford, before transferring to a medical supply depot at Camp Ellis, Ill., where he set up a medical supply unit during the occupation of Japan.
"I wanted to do this for those who served before us, those who served with us and those who served after us," Parker said.
Parker said his favorite part of the trip was an unexpected interaction with more than 100 school children from around the country who were visiting the World War II memorial. As the veterans were lining up for a picture, the children approached them and began to shake their hands and greet them.
"I got more joy out of that than sorrow from being there," Parker said. "They came to see the memorial for those who gave their lives, and we were there as a memorial to those who lived."
In addition to visiting the World War II memorial, the veterans had the opportunity to visit the Navy and Air Force memorials and other monuments, as well as the Capitol.
Sam Anderson, public relations director for Brookshire's, has helped put the past four WWII Heroes Flights together. So far, 141 veterans have participated in the trips, and Anderson hopes to continue them in the years to come.
"This world would be so different, my life would be so different, without what these men did," Anderson said. "This is just a way to thank them."
Editor Dave Berry, who accompanied the veterans on their journey, contributed to this report.