SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — More than 2,000 veterans and their guardians were treated to a day of recognition and gratitude by Honor Flight of the Ozarks.

80 veterans from the Ozarks took their flight last week. Few knew what they were in store for, and almost all say it was even more than they could have expected.

It’s a day that veterans look forward to but aren’t fully prepared for.

“It’s been fabulous, it brings tears to your eyes. The police escort, people in the airport cheering for you, you just don’t expect those things,” said Steve Moody, Army Veteran.

“It’s really inspiring because years ago they didn’t think of that stuff or vets from any services and now it looks like the whole country is on board and that’s good,” said James Rimpson, Army Vietnam Veteran.

Honor Flight of the Ozarks serves all veterans, combat-tested or not. Vietnam Veteran Steven Watson of Springfield recommends the trip for everyone who served.

“Why’s it important? So you can see what you’ve been through. Other people know what they have been through. I was in Vietnam War so I came to see it too,” Steven Watson, Army Vietnam Veteran

Honor Flight of the Ozarks couldn’t do what it does for veterans without an army of volunteers.

Kelley Ritter has helped out on every flight since 2016. She volunteers to honor her father, a World War II veteran, and her brothers who served in the Navy.

“They keep thanking us and I tell them ‘no we are thanking you.’ It’s the least that we or me can do,” said volunteer Kelley Ritter.

A highlight of the day is a mail call on the flight home when the veterans are handed an envelope full of thank you notes and cards from people who know their service story and even those they didn’t think knew.

Army veteran Dale Maples drives a school bus. Nixa’s Tony Switzer served in the Marines. He had elementary school students thanking him for his service.

At the end of a long fulfilling day and after landing at Springfield Branson National Airport, one more ceremony to wrap up a day the veterans say they’ll never forget.

Honor Flight of the Ozarks will take two more trips this year. They’re now accepting applications for 2024 flights. You can find the information on their website on how to apply.