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Purple Heart Flight Honoring Veterans, Gold Star Families

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By Joe Foreman, Editor

If you’re looking for a special way to say “thank you” to the men and woman of our armed forces this Memorial Day weekend, I suggest you come out to Omaha’s Old Market area Friday evening around 8:30 - 8:45.

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That’s where a very special “Welcome Home Parade” is going to be taking place for participants in Friday’s Nebraska-Iowa Purple Heart Flight.

On Friday, Nebraska and western Iowa veterans from the War on Terror and members of several Gold Star families will be spending the day in Washington, D.C., as members of the special honor flight arranged by Red Oak native Bill Williams.

Their day will begin with a 4 a.m. flight out of Eppley Airfield. Once in D.C., they’ll spend the day visiting military memorials along the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. At Arlington, they’ll witness the Changing of the Guard ceremony and spend time in Section 60 of the cemetery where Iraq and Afghanistan veterans killed in action are buried.

It will be an emotional and whirlwind day for members of the honor flight, which includes surviving family members of veterans who have paid the ultimate sacrifice since Sept. 11, 2001.

Friday’s honor flight, Williams said, will be the most unique of the 13 he’s taken to Washington, D.C. over the past dozen years. Those on the plane will include:

* Purple Heart veterans of Iraq, Afghanistan and/or Desert Storm, including a pair who each received two Purple Hearts.

* Six veterans of the War on Terror who received a Bronze Star with Valor.

* Children, ranging in age from 5 to 39, who lost their fathers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

* A Gold Star son, who as an infant lost his dad in Vietnam.

* A Gold Star son, who as a toddler, lost his dad in Korea.

* Parents whose sons (KIA in Iraq or Afghanistan) are buried in Section 60 at Arlington Cemetery.

* One veteran who  served in Vietnam and later Desert Storm and was part of “Linebacker” in Vietnam. He received a Purple Heart and the Distinguished Flying Cross.

* Many current generation veterans who have deployed multiple times, including one who has been on six deployments.

I’m honored to be serving as the Iowa media representative on Friday’s flight. I’ve had the privilege of covering two previous honor flights to D.C. - one for World War II veterans in 2008 and another in 2013 for those who served during the war in Korea. I can tell you most of the veterans are overwhelmed by the honor flight experience, particularly the outpouring of appreciation they receive throughout the day from total strangers for their service to our country.

Williams said he has one hope for Friday’s flight - “That healing may take place for veterans struggling with PTSD (Posttraumatic Stress Disorder) and that the grief of Gold Star family members might be lessened, if just a bit, in knowing their loved ones are remembered.”

As for that parade Friday night, it will be a short route going south on 10th Street from Jackson Street to the Durham Museum. In addition to the Purple Heart Flight participants, the parade will include veterans organizations, youth groups and local dignitaries.

At the conclusion of the parade, a patriotic celebration will take place at the Durham Museum. Williams said he’s hopeful eastern Nebraska and western Iowa residents will come out to the parade and give veterans and Gold Star families the reception they deserve.

In addition to the parade, the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge and Woodmen Tower office building will be lighted purple Friday night in honor of the Purple Heart recipients.

It promises to be a day and night to remember.