WAUKESHA, Wis.— Howard Hadley served in the United States Air Force for 26 years.
“I was in the Air Force from 1963 to ’89,” Hadley said.
In nearly three decades, he saw a lot of the world.
"I was stationed in Vietnam, Da Nang, Cam Rahn Bay, and throughout the United States, just about every airbase they have,” Hadley said.
He took the Honor Flight in April 2018.
“When I came back from Vietnam, I went through Chicago and they were very nasty to us back in 1973,” Hadley said. "I held that in for 30 some years until I got on an Honor Flight. A friend said, 'Go on an Honor Flight,' and it was like a great weight lifted off my heart.”
This year, because of the coronavirus pandemic, those Honor Flights are grounded.
Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, the organization that helps veterans in Southeast Wisconsin, wanted to find a way to still honor those who risked it all to serve our country.
“This was the perfect time to let our veterans know that we still care about them and that we’re thinking of them,” said former president, Paula Nelson. "And, we wanted to let them know how much all of our volunteers in our organization love them.”
On Saturday, veterans made their way to the Waukesha County Technical College campus for a drive-thru event.
They were greeted by volunteers, police, and firefighters, and given Valentine’s Day cards made by local students, candy, cookies, and hot coffee.
“Seeing the smiles on their faces, they’re so appreciative to be remembered again, to have somebody doing something,” Nelson said. “And to see all of these people who got up in zero or below zero temperatures to thank them once again for their service is just very heartwarming for them.”
Hadley loved being able to see the support on Saturday and encouraged veterans who haven’t yet taken an Honor Flight to do so when it’s safe again.
“Every veteran that’s been in that situation needs to go, to get their past memories out of it, lighten their load, let them heal,” Hadley said.
Even though there won’t be another Honor Flight until at least July 2021, the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight organization is holding other events for veterans. You can learn more, here.