NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Thirty-one veterans from throughout Middle Tennessee were honored Thursday morning with a flight from Nashville to Washington, D.C.

Honor Flight is a nation-wide program that takes World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam veterans on a free trip to see their war memorials in the nation’s capital.

The day started before dawn, with dozens of motorcycles and first responder vehicles escorting a bus of veterans from Coffee County to Nashville International Airport.

“This was emotional this morning,” said Wayne Gill, a Vietnam War veteran. “It brings the tears to your eyes.”

Inside the airport at the gate, they were honored by the BNA Department of Public Safety Honor Guard before the singing of the national anthem.

(Photo: WKRN)

As the Tennessee flag-painted plane prepared for take-off, two water cannons created an arch for them to travel under.

“The people here appreciate what we did for them and our country,” said Gill. “We didn’t get that in ‘68 when we came back. No, this is something else.”

While in Washington, D.C., the veterans have a jam-packed schedule. They’ll meet Tennessee Congressional members, and visit the World War II memorial, Vietnam Wall, Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard, the Pentagon, a VFW post in Alexandria, and more, all before returning home by 8 p.m. Thursday.

The Honor Flight of Middle Tennessee has flown more than 1,000 veterans. Each flight costs about $25,000 and they raise money for the event through donations and fundraisers.

The Honor Flight Chairman of the Board, Claude Morse, said the best part is hearing the servicemen and women open up in the company of other veterans and share stories they never felt comfortable sharing before.

“It’s memories that you didn’t know you had, but they’re great,” said Marion Parham, a World War II veteran who will celebrate his 95th birthday in May.

The next Honor Flight of Middle Tennessee will happen in September 2023.