First Honor Flight since pandemic ends with heroes’ welcome
PEORIA (Heart of Illinois ABC) - Central Illinois veterans received a heroes’ welcome late Thursday night after a long day in Washington D.C. for the first Greater Peoria Honor Flight since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Their mission was to visit memorials for the wars in which they served, and also feel the gratitude of a grateful nation, particularly from children.
Charles Mariuzza is a U.S. Air Force Veteran, serving from 1958 to 1966.
He said he was on a waiting list to get on the flight. COVID hit, and delayed his journey for another 2 1/2 years.
“It’s touching and its good to have the opportunity to do what I did,” said Mariuzza, who returned with dozens of other veterans at Peoria’s General Wayne A. Downing International Airport.
“This right here is really something,” said Mariuzza, referring to the crowds of people greeting them at the airport.
“Everywhere we landed, we were received with applause. And. when we came back from the tour, we were received, but nothing like this.”
He said the most moving part of the experience wasn’t necessarily the trip to Washington. Rather, it was hearing from children.
“I think the best part, in actuality, was receiving the mail. The school kids wrote us letters and they gave them to us at the end of the flight. Some of them, they could just barely write, but the feeling was there,” Mariuzza said.
“It touched me. One kid wrote that he wanted to ride in a Blackbird, that’s a helicopter. I hope someday he does. He said he wanted to wear my boots and uniform. I can’t wear them anymore either,” Mariuzza added.
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