For the first time, 'Honor Flight' Chicago takes Vietnam veterans to Washington D.C.

CHICAGO (WLS) -- More than 100 veterans, three from WWII, 14 from the Korean War and for the first time, 83 Vietnam War veterans took the "Honor Flight" from Chicago to the capitol.

For the first time, Honor Flight Chicago asked Vietnam veterans to come and be honored for their service.

ABC 7 joined them all day for their journey.

It started before the crack of dawn. Three World War II veterans, 14 Korean War veterans, and for the first time Vietnam Veterans all gathered in wheelchairs and on foot at Midway International Airport.

"I'm expecting to see some old friends. I'm expecting to probably cry," said 72-year-old Vietnam veteran Eddie Yarber.

Yarber grew up on Chicago's South Side. He was injured by friendly fire in Vietnam but now he has "an attitude of gratitude. God blessed me, I came home."

It's the same for Purple Heart recipient Luis Obed Rodriguez, who was injured during an ambush in Vietnam.

"They shot two RPGs, rocket propelled grenades, and at the tank. One of them killed a tank commander. The other one hit the tank," Rodriguez said, blinking back tears.

From Midway, the veterans hopped a plane to Washington DC and landed to a hero's welcome, a water cannon salute, and men and women of all ages and stripes thankful for their service.

"I was in tears. It just was wonderful. I was overwhelmed," said William King, Vietnam veteran.

WATCH: Vietnam Veterans receive homecoming like they've never had before
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Honor Flight Chicago and the Chicago Department of Aviation sent 103 veterans to the capital to visit the national memorials and pay tribute to those who've served in the Armed For



King said widespread gratitude was something he never experience when he first came home.

"This honor tour is the greatest, the greatest thing I've ever been involved with," he said.

Air Force veteran John Judge said the same at the memorial dedicated to his fellow airmen.

"When I came back from Vietnam, we had to stop in California to change (into civilian) clothes," Judge recalled.

But to be at the Air Force Memorial in the nation's capitol with dozens of other Vietnam vets, was "undescribable. Honest to god it's undescribable."

At the World War II memorial, a ceremony honored all the veterans from Honor Flight Chicago, including 92-year-old World War II veteran George Crindland.

"It makes me feel wonderful. It makes me feel like the country appreciated the sacrifices of those brave men," Crinland said.

He also had a message for his brothers that served in Vietnam.

"Those guys never got the credit they deserved. All wars are wars, and they were in one," he said.

At the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, 83 veterans from the Chicago Area had one of their most emotional moments. Some were there to complete a mission, men like Bob Bruzek, who carries the memory of the friends he lost under his hat as a laminated cutout of their names in the Stars and Stripes Newspaper.

"Every time I go to a Veterans Day parade or something like that, these two guys are with me," he said.

Bruzek was on the Honor Flight to find his friend on the Vietnam Memorial Wall for the first time.

"I'm getting anxious, I'm really getting anxious," he said as he paced the wall searching for his friends' names.

"Oh! There's George! And here's the other one... John..." he exclaimed when he found them.

The men he knew only for six months are memorialized forever on the wall and in the etchings made for himself and their families.

"I don't know how I'm going to tell my friends and my relatives how great this day was. It's is going to supersede just about anything else that's happened in my life," Bruzek said.

The day was filled with honors and demonstrations for the service and sacrifice of these 100 men.

And as they returned home, more recognition they never expected.

More than 100 navy recruits shouting with joy for each veteran as he was escorted off of the plane.

"I didn't expect any of this. This is great," said Vietnam veteran Luis Rodriguez through tears. "It means a lot because it means now that now this young generation accepts us. Not like when we came back. Our generation didn't accept us."

It was a triumphant and tearful return for a grateful community.

"I just have an attitude of gratitude because the people were showing it," said Eddie Yarber. "Continuity should be a part of this. This should never stop."

Click here to learn more about Honor Flight Chicago.
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