SPRINGFIELD, Mo. – 81 local veterans got the experience of a lifetime on the latest Honor Flight of the Ozarks.

Honor Flights take veterans who served during World War II, Korea, the Vietnam era or the Gulf War on a free trip to Washington, D.C. where they can tour the attractions and memorials they inspired.

The veterans took off Wednesday morning at about 5:30. They arrived back home to a big welcome shortly after 11 p.m.

Hundreds of people gathered at the Springfield-Branson National Airport with signs, flags and banners.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson made an appearance at the airport.

“I’m just humbled to be able to be here and be a part of the crowd tonight to welcome them home,” Parson said.

The governor says as a veteran himself, he cherishes events like these.

“Our country is built on the principles of these men and women that are getting off this plane tonight,” Parson said. 

OzarksFirst spoke to a Vietnam veteran who went on an Honor Flight in 2019. He says being at the airport to honor the veterans has a deeper meaning.

“It was special because the crowd was there greeting all of us, something that I didn’t get when I came home in ‘72 from Vietnam,” said Alex Hernandez, who served for over 30 years.

Carrie York, whose grandfather was on the Honor Flight, agreed, saying this welcome is long overdue.

“I think it’s really special because as everybody knows, the Vietnam veterans weren’t given the welcome home that they deserved,” York said.

This was the third and final Honor Flight of the Ozarks for 2023.