The sounds of heavy boots patted across the pavement as the Soldiers walked in the early morning. The sun was hours from rising but you wouldn't have known from the energetic faces of the Soldiers as they took their positions outside the Huntsville Airport. Soon some of America's greatest heroes would be arriving and these Soldiers from the NCO Academy would be there to greet them.
As veterans from World War II arrived May 31, the Soldiers directed traffic to the terminal where other volunteers from the Honor Flight Organization were waiting, ready to give the veterans a thunderous welcome before their journey to Washington, D.C.
This journey, long overdue in many of the volunteers' eyes, is known as the Honor Flight. It is a chance to send World War II veterans who have yet to see their memorial in this nation's capitol, free of charge.
To many of the volunteers and Soldiers in attendance, volunteering at the airport for the Honor Flight is their chance to pay respect to those who proudly defended America's freedom so many years ago.
And as many of the WWII veterans exited their vehicles, humble looks of shock and happiness ran across their faces as they were greeted by such a large crowd of supporters. To Jim Cape and others, this is exactly the response they were hoping to receive.
"This is a recognition that is long overdue," said Cape, a volunteer for the Tennessee Valley Chapter of the Honor Flight Organization. "These men and women saved our country and our way of life and this is our way of saying thank you. It should have been done years ago but we're glad to have the opportunity to be doing this now.
"This is our fourth Honor Flight taking our World War II veterans who have not yet seen their memorial up in Washington, D.C. to see that very memorial, all paid for by donations from the community," he said. "These veterans are dying at a rate of 1,500 a day, and it's soon going to be too late (for the veterans to see the memorial). That's our slogan for this year - '08 before it's too late."
Cape and other members of HFO gathered donations and chartered planes to carry the veterans to Washington, not only to see the WWII memorial, but to see other sights of the capitol.
With the support of the NCO Academy, every veteran who walked through the front door was greeted, accounted for and given special care before the flight.
"When the veterans arrive, they were processed in and given a black shirt to wear, saying they are Honor Flight World War II veterans," Cape said. "We will have a little ceremony for the veterans and then they will board the plane."
The ceremony consisted of welcoming speeches, singing of the national anthem, and a row of Soldiers and members of the Patriot Guard Riders welcoming and thanking every veteran who passed by.
Along with members of the NCO Academy, members of the Redstone Arsenal Color Guard were in attendance to support the veterans.
"We are members of the Redstone Arsenal Color Guard and we are here to represent Redstone and the community and show our respect and appreciation to these veterans for all they have done for us," Staff Sgt. Brandon Lacy, a member of the color guard and HHC 59th, said. "This is very important to us because we have to honor these veterans. They have already done their time and it is our responsibility to show our support to these heroes who gave so much to our nation.
"I hope all the people here realize that the community and country supports them, not just current active duty, but retirees as well. I personally feel honored to be here. It wouldn't matter what time of the day an event like this would take place, I'd be here."
For Henry Hovevak, a WWII veteran, the whole morning's events gave him a new sense of pride for his service.
"I feel very overwhelmed," Hovevak said. "This really is something great to experience. The feeling of respect and honor being shown to all these veterans is truly amazing. It is a wonderful feeling to be recognized and to have the chance to take a trip like this. It really means a lot to many of us here."