Four local veterans took part in an Honor Flight on Saturday.

Gary Smith, of Barbourville, Charlie Phillips, of Corbin, Joel Peyton, of Corbin and Robert Mackey, of Corbin, along with 70 other Kentucky veterans participated in a one-day tour of war memorials in the nation’s capital. This was the ninth Honor Flight sponsored by Cumberland Valley Electric and Kentucky’s Touchstone Energy Cooperatives. The mission was coordinated by Winchester-based Honor Flight Kentucky.

The veterans received a hero's welcome home Saturday from patriotic, flag-waving citizens who filled the entire terminal at Lexington’s Blue Grass Airport.

At the Vietnam Memorial, Peyton, a 77-year-old Army veteran, found the names of soldiers from his unit who were killed in action. Peyton was overwhelmed by Saturday’s welcome-home reception in Lexington.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was blown out of the water.”

Several of the veterans — who served during World War II, the Cold War, the Korean War or the Vietnam War — said it was the best day of their lives.

Vietnam veterans Gary Smith and Charlie Phillips both expressed what an incredible experience they had. They both commented what a great day they had. In addition, both veterans hoped that others would apply for next year’s flight.

Following an early-morning flight from Lexington, the group was greeted at Reagan Washington National Airport by a cheering crowd and a U.S. Military Academy chorus serenading them with patriotic songs. A police escort then guided the group’s buses to stops that included the Air Force Memorial, Women in Military Service for America Memorial and the Marine Corps War Memorial.

The 2019 contingent included 99-year-old World War II veteran Henry C. Ledford of Clay County. He turned 100 years old Sunday. It was his first time ever traveling by air and the first time he had seen the memorial honoring him and 16 million Americans who served in the war.

“It was wonderful,” Ledford said. “It was the best thing I’ve ever had in my life.”

At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery, the group watched the changing of the guard and participated in an emotional wreath-laying ceremony. The Honor Flight participants also visited memorials dedicated to the veterans from the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Throughout the day, the veterans were greeted with smiles, photo requests and thanks for their service.

A homecoming reception, which Cumberland Valley Electric helped to coordinate, capped off the jam-packed day of activities. Led by a bagpipe band, returning veterans paraded through the Lexington airport terminal as family and friends clapped and shouted welcomes, waved flags and shook their hands.

Rich Prewitt of Cumberland Valley Electric said, “It was such a pleasure and honor to be around these four local guys who are such a credit to our country and to our counties. I could never thank them enough for their service to our country.”

For more information on how to apply for Honor Flight Kentucky 2020, call Prewitt at Cumberland Valley Electric.

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