Tohono O’odham Nation veterans honored in southern Arizona’s 1st all-Native American Honor Flight
TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - Honor Flight Southern Arizona completed its first all-Native American Honor Flight Sunday, Nov. 13.
The Honor Flight Network has flown more than 250,000 veterans from across the country to memorials in Washington, D.C., with no cost to them.
Sunday’s southern Arizona Honor Flight ended at the Tucson International Airport.
It was a happy homecoming and reunion for the veterans and their loved ones. There was a large crowd with signs, balloons and American flags.
This marked the 31st Honor Flight for southern Arizona, but as the first all-Native American Honor Flight, it held so much meaning for the veterans and their families.
Emotions were high as over 100 members of the Tohono O’odham Nation came through the gates at the airport.
″It means a great lot because the nation and all they put into building the museum,” said veteran John Johnson. “But they also assisted with taking care of us for this trip and I’m sure it’ll mean a lot to all the people out there that will hear about it.”
A crowd of family and friends waited with open arms.
Jennifer Juan and her children brought balloons and signs to celebrate her mother and father.
″We’re excited to see my folks come back. Both my mom and my dad served in the Army and this is the first time they’re able to return to Washington D.C.,” she said.
The last four days were filled with memories these Native American heroes will never forget. Many have waited years for a moment like this.
″The last couple years, I missed the Vietnam Veterans Wall and I got to see it,” veteran Felix Juan said.
On Friday, Nov. 11, these veterans participated in the dedication ceremony and the Veterans Procession.
This flight also happened at the same time as the dedication ceremony of the Native American veterans memorial in D.C.
Then Saturday, they toured the national memorials and attended the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.
″It was a special trip to DC for them to also see their memorials but also to go to the Smithsonian and to the Indian exhibit,” said Barbara Brownlie, co-founder of Honor Flight Southern Arizona. “They were there yesterday in the rain and they had a wonderful time.”
Since Honor Flight Southern Arizona was established in 2011, over 1,000 veterans have made this trip to D.C. to visit the memorials to their service.
And seeing their family be able to have the experience of a lifetime brought some to tears. Many said it was a proud moment for the whole Tohono O’odham Nation.
″There’s a lot of Native pride, being veterans, and I think everyone that’s here is super proud to having serving members in their families. So it means a lot for us to be honored in this way,” Jennifer Juan said.
Though the first all-Native American Honor Flight in Southern Arizona has come to an end, the veterans and their families hope that there will be more to come in the future.
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