Five vans full of Vietnam War veterans drove through Scottsbluff as part of an Honor Flight Thursday. They were accompanied by motorcycle riders and cheered on by a flag-waving crowd of more than 100.
The veterans' end goal is Washington, D.C., where they’ll be able to visit the war memorials made to honor those who fought in the nation’s wars.
Scottsbluff has hosted such Honor Flight convoys before. For the past decade, they’ve stopped by the local Elks Lodge for a commemorative lunch.
Steve Thomlison, a former Exalted Ruler of the Elks Lodge, organizes the events. This year, he worked in conjunction with volunteers in Nebraska and Colorado, as well as ride captains for each leg of the journey. He said this year’s veterans came from Scottsbluff, Gering, Alliance, Chadron and Marsland.
They travel south through the Panhandle, down into northeast Colorado and west to Denver. At several cities along the way, cheering crowds greet the veterans and thank them for their service.
The veterans flew out from Denver International Airport on Friday, then will meet up in Washington for the weekend. Sometimes, Thomlison said, the group raises enough donations to host two Honor Flights in a year.
In Scottsbluff, volunteers handed out 150 full-size American flags for onlookers to carry and greet the veterans with as they drove down 1st Avenue. Firetrucks and ambulances with lights flashing and a flag draped from outstretched ladders blocked off the street to help mark their route.
Bob Goldman usually helps out putting the flag lines together. “This is a lot more people than usual … kids from Gering came down to help,” he said.
He said he has been to several such events and likes supporting the veterans in honor of his late father-in-law, who was a member of two Honor Flights before he passed.
Laura Lebruska, meanwhile, was attending an Honor Flight sendoff for the first time. She said her husband is being honored in such an event this weekend, and her veteran daughter will serve as his guardian chaperone. “It’s my first time. I’m really enjoying it. I have a lot of friends here,” Lebruska said.
She is a member of the Mitchell chapter of the American Legion Auxiliary. Among her fellow auxiliary members in attendance was Denise Sinner of Morrill, whose father, brother and fiance all served.
“Every American should be doing this,” Sinner said. “I think the dedication, the patriotism, there’s just a lot of things that have just gone away. Standing in the middle of the street and looking both directions and seeing 150 flags … it’s just pretty darn cool.”
Local first responders, veterans and students were among those who supported the local Honor Flight members as they stopped by Scottsbluff on their way to take a plane to Washington, D.C. to view war memorials.