Honor Flight/Audio

A big surprise for a vet with quite a story

CREATED Nov 10, 2011

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  • People filled Mitchell International to welcome their vets home.

  • The Honor Guard leads our vets back to their families at Mitchell International.

  • Waiting for our return flight.

  • At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier watching the changing of the guard.

  • Posing for the group shot at the WWII Memorial.

  • Wisconsin's column at the WWII memorial.

  • Flowers left at a memorial to the 101st Airborne at Arlington National Cemetery.

  • At the Women's Memorial.

  • Our welcome in Washington.

  • Relatives of one of our vets meet him at the airport in Washington.

  • Charlie Sykes shakes our vets hands as they arrive at Dulles International.

  • People in Washington DC welcome our vets at the airport.

  • Waiting to go see the sights.

  • Charlie Sykes poses with a vet.

  • Flying to Washington

  • Music for the vets as we wait for our flight.

  • Volunteers shake the hands of the vets prior to takeoff.

  • Vets and their Guardians lined up at Mitchell getting ready for their flight.

WASHINGTON DC - "You know, I haven't told these stories before."

Air Force Retired Lt. Col. John "JC" Mcdonell started talking about the war as we sat outside the Women's Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery.  He was already on the trip with his son, who served as his guardian.  And he was still in shock after his nephew, Terry, and nephew's wife showed up.  They had flown in from New York to surprise him.

"He's a great hero in our family because he took care of me and then he took care of his own family as well. So we were very close when we were young," Terry said.

JC and Terry have a special bond.  Terry's father died in service when Terry was still a baby.  "[he had] Engine trouble on takeoff, five guys with him, and lost.  He got a commendation.  Everything for putting the airplane down in an athletic field instead of hitting all the barracks," JC remembered.

So JC stepped in and became an important part of Terry's life, "He came to my graduation. He wrote me letters. He sent me stuff. He talked to me on the phone," and then Terry casually sprinkled in, "he put a cigar out on my forehead."

Everyone laughed, although I was still confused.  JC explained, "I picked him up and I had a cigar in my mouth.  It was an El Producto.  I was very disappointed because it kinda ruined it and I had to light up a La Palina."

JC served in England flying missions over Germany.  He had with him a list of the men on three B-24s that flew over together, including his plane.  "I'm the only one that came back," he remembered.

He made it back because he'd been shot down.  JC didn't want to talk about his own troubles.  He went right back to the guys who didn't make it.

"Those were the heroes.  I was lucky enough to be forced down in France. So I didn't get a chance to go on the next mission."

That day, one pilot couldn't hold the runway direction as they were taking off in the fog.  "With a load of bombs, he plowed into the buildings on the other side and all were killed," JC said.  The pilot and crew of the other plane were lost that same day while they were out on a mission.

As JC held the list and paid tribute to the men he served with, he was still beaming.  He was so happy after the surprise of his family showing up to be there with him on his day on the honor flight.