Last Friday at the Dayton International Airport, amid the crowd of active-duty military personnel, local high school students, and a swarm of loved ones emerged 35 veterans who had just returned from visiting their respective war memorials in Washington, D.C.

Their returning flight into Dayton arrived almost an hour late Friday night, and by the time the veterans deplaned, most of them had been awake for nearly 24 hours. Fatigue, however, was nonexistent as the veterans were welcomed home by hundreds of Miami Valley residents who lined each side of the airport’s main terminal aisle, creating a tunnel of thunderous support through which the veterans passed gleefully.

Among the returning veterans was Lloyd Hardy, 81, of Enon—a Korean War veteran who saw the service of himself and his fellow soldiers immortalized in Korean War Memorial for the first time Friday on the Honor Flight trip. Speaking with Hardy just before 1 a.m. early Saturday morning after his return, he said he had awoken nearly 24 hours earlier to prepare for the trip. “I got up at 1:30 in the morning yesterday…but the day was too short,” said Hardy. “I could do it again easily.”

Hardy’s grandchildren, Macey Hardy and Devin Hardy of Enon, gathered with their family at the airport to await Lloyd’s return Friday night, saying they were proud of their grandfather’s service.

When asked to name his favorite aspect of the Honor Flight experience, Hardy said the tremendous homecoming ceremony stood out in his mind, although the entire trip had been the experience of a lifetime. “Everything was great…the homecoming, the monuments, and the people we were there with—it was a great time,” said Hardy. “In Baltimore and D.C., there were so many kids that came up to us and shook our hands…the school kids came out by the bus-loads to see us,” he said.

Hardy said that as an Enon resident, he was especially proud to represent the birthplace of Honor Flight.

Nearly 400 active-duty military personnel arrived at the airport around 8 p.m. Friday evening, almost three hours before Honor Flight was expected to land, so that they could go through the security process and be cleared to surprise the returning veterans at their gate when they landed.

Jim Solomon, Director of Honor Flight Dayton, told the crowd to make as much noise possible when the veterans emerged from the gate, as many of them had been cruelly denied a supportive homecoming when they returned from war. “A lot of these guys, especially the World War II veterans, didn’t get the homecoming they deserved for stopping those two tyrants who killed millions and millions of people,” Solomon said. “We’re not going to wake anyone up out here, so really let them hear it when they round that corner,” he said.

Solomon encouraged loved ones of the returning vets to always listen when they speak of their military experience, noting he had received a call from one veteran who just wanted to talk, as his family would no longer listen. This elicited a few laughs from the crowd, which Solomon quickly quelled. “This is serious,” he said. “Some of these guys are going to repeat the story of Honor Flight day after day after day, but you have to listen to them. This is one of the most exciting days of their life, you have to understand that,” said Solomon.

Bobbie Ward, who teaches Family and Consumer Sciences at Greenon High School, brought a group of her students to the airport Friday night to welcome home the returning veterans. Ward said she has brought her students to the celebration many times in the past, and was even more pleased this time, as Hardy’s granddaughter Macey is one of her students.

The Enon Eagle’s Maggie Yowler has been invited to go to Washington D.C. with Honor Flight in May, and she looks forward to compiling an exclusive story on local veterans visiting their respective memorials, just in time for Memorial Day.