April 16. 2014 10:41PM

Honor Flights vets visit National World War II Memorial

New Hampshire Union Leader

Area veterans traveling Manchester Boston Regional Airport to Washington, DC on Honor Flight to see the national war memorials were greeted by a large group of supporters waving flags and signs of thanks. The supporters included friends, family, military members, fire service members and local law enforcement. Patriot Guard Riders were on site to accompany the veterans bus to the airport and help line the airport halls. WWII veteran Warren Geissinger, of Concord, reacts to the show of supporters at the airport. (Bruce Taylor/Union Leader)

Twenty-three World War II veterans got to visit the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., this past weekend, the first of six Honor Flights to fly out of New England this year.

The all-day trip, which is totally free for veterans, included visits to war memorials in the nation's capital, meals, and a chance for aging veterans to feel the appreciation of generations who are alive today because of them.

The New Hampshire Patriot Guard riders escorted buses to the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. In Washington, Park Police zipped the Honor Flight bus through traffic jams. And in airports veterans were met with applause by strangers.

The typical comment that Honor Flight volunteers hear is how the veterans appreciated the respect they got from strangers, said Joe Byron, a former Manchester police officer who founded the organization.

"They don't expect any of that. They think we've forgotten," Byron said.

Honor Flight New England started in 2009, and Sunday's flight marked the 31st of the organization, Byron said. More than 900 New England veterans have been flown to Washington to see war memorials.

Most are World War II veterans, and the travelers have included 39 women, 19 sets of brothers, ailing and disabled veterans, and several who have fought in three wars.

Priority is given to World War II veterans and veterans from later wars who are suffering a terminal disease.

Bedford resident Leonard Provencher, 91, who fought in the Army's 36th division, was in the Sunday group.

"It was a perfect group. It was well organized. It was beyond expectation," Provencher said. He had never been to the National World War II Memorial, which he said was one of the highlights of the trip.

It had its sad moments, he said. One poignant part was a view of where 9-11 terrorist struck the Pentagon, he said.

Sunday's flight was the first of the season. The veterans were notified in January, and so they had to endure the winter before taking the trip, Byron said.

Guardians accompanied most of the veterans, so 52 people flew in total. The next flight, scheduled for May 18, is a charter flight out of Boston.

The next Manchester flight is June 15, Father's Day. For more information, visit www.honorflightnewengland.org.