It was a long and tumultuous period of U.S. history that saw the Korean War. Coming in at the tail end of World War II, veterans of that war returned to indifference. For one local veteran, that painful period has been somewhat eased by his Honor Flight.
Leslie "Les" Mills participated in the program on May 10, just a few weeks before his 87th birthday. An Army veteran who served in the 40th Field Artillery Division for 3 years, Mills said his time in Washington, D.C. was quite enjoyable.
"I rode around in a wheelchair and watched the sights," he said. "It was exhausting, but I wouldn't trade it for anything."
His daughter, Cheryl Reno, joined him on the trip as a "guardian"; special caretakers who are usually related to a veteran on the trip. She said it was a very emotional time for the both of them.
"I've never cried so much in my life," she said. "I saw my dad crying and couldn't hold back."
She said her father told her that he had never had so much attention in his whole life, stating "I got nothing coming back from Korea." Reno said that it was an unforgettable experience traveling to D.C. with 75 veterans.
"I think a lot of them thought D.C. was a big tourist trap with lots of concrete and hot dog vendors on every corner. Many of them were very impressed."
For those who run the Honor Flight program, that is the goal. Having sent over 2,000 veterans to D.C since their inception in 2009, the Honor Flight program makes it their highest priority to honor vets. Making that happen is no mean feat, as they charge nothing for the service and every flight has medical personnel aboard to care for the veterans. They try to focus on WWII veterans, sending them out by seniority. There are currently over 6,000 veterans on their waiting list, with those who have terminal illnesses given priority.
For Les Mills, this was the greatest thing to have happened to him. But he says the trip itself wasn't the best part.
"The outstanding thing was the welcoming committee in Springfield when we got back," he said. "It seemed to me half of the town had turned up to welcome us back."