Since the coronavirus pandemic cancelled honor flights 16 months ago, at least 757 vets have died waiting for the opportunity to visit the US war memorials in the capital.
Ronald Dean’s family wanted to make sure he wasn’t the next one on that list.
On Thursday, Dean — a 74-year-old Marine Corps veteran who served in Vietnam in 1967 and 1968 — made his first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, accompanied by an emotional cohort of family members.
In pre-coronavirus times, scenes like this were common on the National Mall, as the Honor Flight program brought thousands of veterans a year from all over the country to tour the memorials and meet with local officials.
Lawmakers and veterans groups often greet buses full of veterans to the sites with cheering, photographs and copious thanks for military service rendered long ago. Those flights are coming back next month. In addition the program expects to transport its 250,000th veteran to the nation’s capital sometime this fall.
But Dean was recently diagnosed with dementia, and his family worried that he may not have any time left to wait.
“When we talked about what else he wanted to do, he said he had always wished he had made it here to see the wall,” said his daughter Joy. “So we booked plane tickets right away.”
After flying in from California early in the morning with his wife, four children and four of his 12 grandchildren, Dean arrived at the memorial to loud applause from a small crowd of veterans advocates waving American flags, anxious to greet a man who they had never met before. (continue reading)