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August 1, 2014

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Cheering crowd greets World War II veterans returning from trip to D.C.

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Steve Marcus

Emalina Arreola, 5, waits with family members to welcome back World War II veterans after the first Las Vegas Honor Flight at McCarran International Airport Sunday, May 5, 2013. About 35 Southern Nevada veterans visited Baltimore and memorials in Washington D.C.

WWII Vets Return From First L.V. Honor Flight

Members of Pinups for Patriots wait to welcome back World War II veterans after the first Las Vegas Honor Flight at McCarran International Airport Sunday, May 5, 2013. About 35 Southern Nevada veterans visited Baltimore and memorials in Washington D.C. Pinups for Patriots is a group that works with charities that support military causes. Launch slideshow »

Seven decades ago, when Jerry Countess and 2,000 of his fellow soldiers came home from war, there was no applause, no welcome party at that dock in New York to greet him and his fellow warriors.

There was no one there to thank the corporal for the battles he fought in Sicily and North Africa; no one to admire the courage he had shown to earn his Purple Heart and Silver and Bronze stars.

On Sunday, well-wishers joined in droves to thank him and his fellow veterans for the price they paid to fight for America in World War II.

“Look at all these people,” said Countess, 92, his voice raised. “Look at all the work these people put in.”

These 35 veterans weren’t returning from war; instead, they had just completed a trip to Washington, D.C., to see the monuments built to honor them. They had the opportunity because of a national nonprofit called Honor Flight, which recently formed a Las Vegas chapter that aims to bring World War II veterans to the nation's capital to see the war memorials before they meet their end.

“They’re our greatest generation, these men and women. What they did in World War II should never be forgotten,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev.

Southwest Airlines donated 25 tickets to the cause, and other sponsors pitched in boxed lunches for the flight to Washington.

The return home caught many of them off guard.

A whole procession was organized for the veterans when their plane landed at McCarran International Airport, complete with bagpipers and a Transportation Security Administration honor guard. Emotions bubbled up and boiled over: some cried, and some laughed.

And some of them sang.

“I’m a big tough ex-cop. Nothing should get to me, right?” said Peter Maheu, an organizer of the trip. “But when someone wants to get up in a group of veterans and sing 'God Bless America,' that gets me.”

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