Sixty-one World War II veterans were welcomed home by hundreds following a special Bluegrass Honor Flight that coincided with the 74th anniversary of D-Day. A special night in Louisville, a rare opportunity to thank troops who helped to preserve a way of life a long time ago.
Among the participants was Al Benninger, who was a member of the University of Louisville stats crew for 35 years. He was doing stats when UofL crew was selected to do the NCAA Tournament in 1969. He has been a honorary member of the stats crew, still sitting on press row since retiring in 2006.
Benninger, who served in the Navy, and his fellow veterans were flown to Washington for an overnight trip to see all of the war memorials, including the World War II memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington Cemetery. They were warmly greeted, receiving heroes’ welcomes at every stop along the way.
“It was incredible trip, nothing like I have ever seen,” said Benninger, who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. “We really appreciate everything everyone did to honor us. It was great, too, meeting so many veterans and hearing their stories.”
The veterans returned to Louisville at approximately 7:30 p.m. on June 9th. But because there were so many veterans in wheelchairs (over 45 of them), the flight crew needed about an hour to get all of them off the airplane.
A huge roar went up as the veterans and their escorts came into view in the terminal. They were greeted by representatives of every segments of the military service, as well as groups from the American Legion and Disabled Veterans. The Thoroughbred Chorus was on hand, as was a special bagpipe band.
A celebration evoking joy, tears and memories of more innocent times. A chance for Louisvillians to say thanks for individuals who put it all on the line for their fellow Americans.