Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes
WASHINGTON — A group of Utah Veterans were up early Friday morning to take a Utah Honor Flight from Salt Lake City.
The organization takes veterans to some of the war memorials in Washington, D.C.
For many of them, this was the first time they visited these memorials, which is the main goal of the Utah Honor Flight group — to bring veterans to the nation's capital as a way to say thank you for their service.
The travelers had plenty of emotions as they toured the national monuments and memorial sites in Washington, D.C.
The @UtahHonorFlight is getting ready to leave @slcairport for Washington DC. This is the group that brings veterans to the sights and memorials in our nation's Capital. We're tagging along with them for stories on @KSL5TV. pic.twitter.com/MS98Y85VYh— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) September 17, 2021
Of all the birthdays Mark McKell has celebrated, his 103rd on Friday, he said, is one to remember.
"Oh, it's amazing," he said with a smile.
McKell, who lives in Spanish Fork, is a World War II veteran.
On Friday, as part of the Utah Honor Flight, he got to visit the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
One of the veterans on the @UtahHonorFlight today is Mark McKell from Spanish Fork. He served during WWII and turned 103 years old today. They had a surprise happy birthday singing for him during our flight. #ksltvpic.twitter.com/52ZFgc7X1A— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) September 17, 2021
"It's almost like a dream. I'll wake up maybe in an hour and find out it was just a dream," said McKell. "It doesn't seem real."
He was one of about 75 Utah veterans making the Utah Honor Flight trip from Salt Lake City to Baltimore, then on buses to the National Mall in the nation's capital, to see the sights and experience the war memorials before it is too late.
"It means a lot to me that they're remembering us and that we can do this," said Lee Sanchez, a U.S. Army veteran who served in Vietnam and Desert Storm.
Unfortunately, for some Utah veterans, there just wasn't enough time.
"We lost 13 veterans who were called for a spring flight in 2019, and when we started calling them for the September flight this year, 13 family members informed us that their veteran had passed away," said Stephanie Harmon, chairwoman at Utah Honor Flight.
Utah Veteran Rocky Olson, who lives in Roy, showing his son some of the people he knew during the Vietnam War. This is at the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC. They're here as part of the @UtahHonorFlight. pic.twitter.com/RsM3ptBuCH— Alex Cabrero (@KSL_AlexCabrero) September 17, 2021
The COVID-19 pandemic has canceled almost two years' worth of Honor Flights. The last successful trip was in November of 2019.
Harmon asked families of deceased Utah veterans for photos so she could take them on this first trip back since COVID-19 broke out. She even took photographs of the photos in front of the WWII, Vietnam and Korean war memorials.
"We were able to bring eight of them, and obviously, we have the other ones in our hearts," she said.
It was a reminder of how special these flights are, especially for World War II veterans like McKell, where even 103 years almost wasn't enough time to come here.
"It makes you appreciate being a citizen of this great land," said McKell.
The Utah Honor Flight group will continue its tour of Washington, D.C. sights before coming home to Utah Saturday evening.