I knew that May 12th was going to be an emotional one day. I mean, how could a trip through the Twin Tiers Honor Flight with 60 veterans to Washington, D.C. not be? I knew that seeing the memorials and names of those lost written in stone would twist my heart, but what I didn't know is that the genuine thankfulness and respect that I saw on the faces of so many strangers would be what would break me.

We live in a day and age where there is so much negativity. Where it seems that so many have a political agenda and personal vendetta. My heart was completely grabbed by the people I saw this weekend who had none of those things. Instead, they had genuine gratitude and humble hearts. I knew that when we got off the plane in Washington, D.C. that there was a special treat waiting for our veterans. They didn't know and neither did their guardians. However, no amount of advance knowledge of what was to come could have prepared me for the actual event.

The surprise began as we were taxiing to the gate. The fire department presented our veterans with a water salute. A water salute is reserved for ceremonial purposes in which a vehicle travels under water which is expelled by a firetruck. Our aircraft was flanked on either side by firetrucks as their water created an arch.

And then, our precious veterans were greeted with a fanfare, unlike anything they've ever experienced. The terminal where our flight arrived was packed with people who were waving flags and holding signs and shaking hands and kissing and welcoming our veterans. It felt a bit like being in a movie- the kind where everything moves in slow motion. My heart most definitely expanded as I watched our veterans walk through the crowd with tears streaming down their cheeks.

During our time in Washington, D.C. our veterans were able to see the Air Force Memorial, witness the changing of the guard and a wreath ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery, and visit the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War Memorials. Our veterans also witnessed four very special Flags of Our Heroes Ceremonies. The Flags of Our Heroes Program is a way to show the respect so richly deserved to our deceased veterans and their families at the National Memorial. Each of the four veterans honored during the Flags of Our Heroes Ceremonies was related to one of the veterans, guardians, volunteers, or staff member of the Twin Tiers Honor Flight. The day was long and it was hot, but it was completely gratifying and the icing on the cake was the warm welcome that our veterans received upon return to the Binghamton Airport.

According to the National World War II Memorial, of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, an estimated 620,000 were still alive in 2016, however, an estimated 372 veterans are dying each day. I'm awful at math, but my calculator tells me that there are, on average, 134,664 veterans who will have died by the time this year is over. Let that sink in. Within the next five years, more than a million veterans will no longer be with us and many of those veterans will never have the chance to visit their memorials in Washington DC. To grieve, to find closure, to pay their respects to fallen comrades, and to receive the thanks and the respect that they themselves deserve. However, you and I can do our part in our little corner of the world by sending our local veterans to their memorials through the Twin Tiers Honor Flight. Every dollar counts when it comes to making these trips possible, so if you've got a buck or two to spare, please consider making a donation.

[via National World War II Memorial/Twin Tiers Honor Flight]