WATERLOO | Veteran Russell Cummings, 82, of Oran, didn’t know quite what to expect Tuesday when he and a nephew took off on the latest Honor Flight out of the Waterloo Regional Airport.
What they and about 180 other veterans and guardians experienced in Washington, D.C., ranged from patriotic ceremony to personal and emotional moments.
"Awesome. Everywhere we went, kids came up and shake your hand. Makes you feel really good," Cummings said.
"Every stop was special," David Cummings, his nephew and guardian for the trip, added.
"It's really nice that we're honoring them now. A lot of them said, 'If you had told me we would see all the things that we saw in one day, I wouldn't have believed it.' So many said they thought they would never see these things," David Cummings, 52, said.
When the veterans thought the Honor Flight held no more surprises, two more arrived. Organizers, as the chartered aircraft prepared to land about 9 p.m. in Waterloo, distributed envelopes stuffed with personal greetings from friends and family. And then, in the terminal, hundreds of people formed a gauntlet, applauding, and in some cases hugging, veterans as they passed.
Jim Haskin, 81, of Dunkerton, served four years in the Navy in Okinawa and Korea. Seventeen of his family turned out at the airport, including his grown children, their spouses, grandchildren and a 2-year-old great-granddaughter, Kylie George.
Haskin traveled with a son, Larry, 55, and needed very little encouragement to join the Honor Flight.
"Oh, no," his wife, Jean, said. "He was looking forward to it."
Ready physically, Haskin had one minor concern, according to his wife.
"He was hoping his hearing aids would hold out for the day," Jean said.
Chuck Saint, 85, of Waterloo, served four years in the Navy and for a time was aboard the USS Macon, a Baltimore-class heavy cruiser. He missed the Honor Flight in June because of emergency, open-heart surgery.
Saint also had a large entourage waiting. Among the crowd was his wife of 59 years, Kathryn.
Despite their long history together — or perhaps because of it — Kathryn said she was quite comfortable letting her husband go on the Honor Flight.
"He can go on the next one, too, if he wants," she laughed.
Russell Cummings had three brothers who also served in the military, Merlin, who lives in California, and Everett and Dale, who are both deceased.
It was, in part, for them that Russell wanted to be on the Honor Flight, according to David Cummings, Dale’s son.
David traveled from Colorado Springs to accompany his uncle.
"He's like my father now," David said.
"I saw him get emotional a couple of times," he added.
Russell particularly liked the Lincoln Memorial and changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Being a hero in his own right for a day was OK, he said.
"Oh, it's awesome. I don't deserve it, but it makes you feel good, you know."