Dozens of people lined the “celebration corridor” to thank veterans for their service in the Memorial Coliseum parking lot Saturday morning.
On its face, the event was months in the making to honor veterans at a time when it is hard to predict the COVID-19 precautions a few months in advance.
But the event also marked a different kind of celebration. Veterans will finally be able to take their Honor Flights after the local organization had to suspend them for 24 months due to the pandemic, which resulted in seven flights out of Fort Wayne being canceled.
Honor Flights are free trips to Washington, D.C., that allow veterans to visit the respective memorial from the war in which they served.
Driving through the celebration corridor Saturday was meant to give veterans a taste of what arriving home from an Honor Flight feels like, said Dennis Covert, Honor Flight Northeast Indiana president.
“This is a good idea to get people to come out here, recognize the veterans, stay connected with the veterans. And we invited the public out here to cheer for us. This is important,” he said.
People held flags along the path. Some bobbed along to the music being played by the DeKalb High School band.
Cars would slow and stop as they saw a friend or family member along the path who came out to support them. More than 40 cars made their way through the celebration corridor in the first 20 minutes of the event that was set for an hour and a half.
Covert said the event was also an opportunity to connect with veterans who are not yet on the list to go on an Honor Flight.
“You have to remember these are people who signed their names to a piece of paper, pledging their life to save this country,” he said.
Megan Martin, an Honor Flight volunteer, also sees the event and Honor Flights as an opportunity to correct the way some veterans were treated after serving.
“A lot of them never had the proper thank you when they came home, so to just be able to provide that to them and let them know that we truly do appreciate everything they've done and how they've served our country, it's huge. They didn't get that, and that was wrong,” she said.
Warsaw resident Diana Bowers with the Fort Wayne Corvette Club, said the group came to the event in part because a lot of veterans are club members.
But, she said, it is also a chance to do something in a big way that people should be doing every day.
“They just deserve thanks – every day. Every time you see someone with a veteran hat, you say thank you,” she said. “That's just the way the world needs to work.”