Patriots’ pilgrimage

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Air Force Maj. Scott Medlyn was at the gate at Reagan National Airport Wednesday, waiting among a gathered crowd of well-wishers there to greet the 76 World War II veterans arriving on Upper Peninsula Honor Flight.

There was one veteran in particular he was hoping to see.

“Do you know if a man named Bob Bracco from Calumet is on the plane,” asked Medlyn, who is stationed at nearby Andrews Air Force Base. “And is his daughter Phyllis with him?”

The answer to both questions was yes and soon Bracco and his daughter, Phyllis Locatelli – who was serving as her dad’s Honor Flight guardian – walked into the terminal and were hailed by Medlyn. Handshakes and hugs were exchanged.

“My dad grew up with Phyllis,” Medlyn explained. “My dad’s name is Bill Medlyn and he lived in Calumet for many years. I have always enjoyed visiting there. It’s a beautiful place.”

Phyllis smiled as she looked at the young man.

“Scott looks just like his dad,” she said.

“I am so glad I heard they were going to be here and I found them,” Medlyn said.

The surprise reunion was just one of the many delightful moments on this, the fourth edition of the U.P. Honor Flight.

In addition to such surprise neighbor reunions, U.P. Honor Flight Mission IV’s veterans were greeted when they arrived at the World War II Memorial by more than 100 school children from Rocky Run Middle School in Chantilly, Va., students who had just studied the Second World War and wanted to meet these American heroes.

The students held up thank-you signs and other greetings, reaching out to shake hands with many veterans as they arrived for their tour of the memorial.

Also on hand to salute the veterans were U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit, and U.S. Rep. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, as well as a number of high-ranking officers from the Pentagon.

Everywhere the Honor Flight went, the veterans were greeted with applause, including at Reagan National Airport upon arrival.

“This is unbelievable,” said veteran Bob Engdahl of Wells Township as he was met with a wave of applause and cheers as he walked into the terminal. “Thank you all so very much.”

Wednesday marked the fourth trip for U.P. Honor Flight to the nation’s capital. So far, some 313 WWII veterans have made the one-day trip on the four flights – all at no cost to them. Those who organize the flights raise all the funds from the various communities around the Upper Peninsula.

The goal is to bring all WWII veterans from the U.P. to see the memorial built in their honor, which was dedicated in 2004.

While in the nation’s capital, the group visits the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Memorial and Arlington Cemetery, among other stops.

Members of U.P. Honor Flight IV were sent off early Wednesday morning from the Delta County Airport with music by the Escanaba High School Band and greeted by several hundred community members upon their return at about 8:40 p.m. Wednesday.