HENRICO COUNTY, Va. -- Dozens of people gathered throughout Richmond International Airport Wednesday to give a grand sendoff to a group of World War Two veterans.
The veterans, around 20 plus their family members, were a part of the Gary Sinise Foundation's "Soaring Valor" program that takes veterans to the National World War Two Museum where their oral histories will be recorded.
The program was inspired by Sinise's Uncle Jack, a WWII veteran, who visited the museum with him and whose oral history was given to Sinise after he passed in 2014.
This was the program's 22nd flight of WWII veterans and the first to take off from Richmond.
"You are surrounded, literally surrounded, by people who love and respect you so much," said Sam Burton, Station Manager for American Airlines (which partners with the foundation on the flights).
The veterans were bused to the airport with an escort from the Henrico County Police Department and the Virginia Patriot Guard and greeted inside by a Henrico County Color Guard, dozens of applauding onlookers, and a military band.
Among those say thank you was Rebekah Martin, whose father served with the Navy in WWII and it inspired her to volunteer at the airport's USO lounge for the 13 years it has been there (and also serves as a member of the airport's dignified transfer team for fallen service members).
"Just so proud to be part of this moment," said Martin. "I just met a gentleman that was at the Battle of the Bulge and then I met another gentleman who was a Tuskegee Airman. It's just an incredible honor to be part of this."
"For me, this is a very special program. I am very honored. This is my first time with the foundation on such a great adventure -- honoring America's greatest generation," said Jacobs.
Jacobs said it was important for the veterans' stories to be preserved as the number of them dwindle each year.
The National World War Two Museum said of the 16 million that served in WWII, just over 167,000 were left in 2022 -- in Virginia, the number was less than 4,000.
"It's something that not only, you know, us that are family members, but the rest of America and the rest of the world needs to hear their stories and to see that they still need to be honored and respected," added Jacobs.
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