His day had included a surprise visit from his grandson, Erwin Mason, a captain en route to Lackland Air Force base in San Antonio by way of duty in Yemen.
“My dad never talks about the war,” Paula Mason said. “I hope this will help him open up and, maybe, get some closure.”
“I hadn’t thought about my grandson being there,” James Mason said. “They knew about it all the time.”
The group witnessed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery, toured the Korean War Memorial and drove past the iconic U.S. Air Force Memorial as it made its return to Baltimore Washington International Airport. The homeward flight — about two and a half hours in duration — was mostly quiet.
“It’s a long day,” Banz said shortly before 9:14 p.m., when the plane touched back down at Will Rogers World Airport. “Most of us are worn slick.”
Rightfully so. The process of loading and unloading 82 veterans — 48 of them in wheel chairs — on buses and planes is a wearying one.
“Our picture is used for the definition of ‘insanity,’” Linda Banz, wife of Gary Banz and planner supreme, said. “We’re taking 75 to 100 men 85 to 95 years old halfway across the country on a day trip.
Oklahoma Honor Flight 15 carried 21 veterans 90 or older. Three women veterans were on board. A record high 70 of the 82 guardians were either relatives or close friends of the veterans they squired.
“We want that,” Linda Banz said. “Teaching the next generation about history is part of why we do this.”
Honor Flights began in May 2005 when six small planes carried a dozen World War II vets from Springfield, Ohio, to Washington, D.C. The network has reached 41 states and now has escorted more than 100,000 veterans — for free — on the trip.
“There’s more out there, and we want to do this for them, too,” Gary Banz said. “We just have to find them.”