It's a welcome home, decades overdue.
Dozens of travelers, waiting on departure, stand and applaud as a tall man dressed in 18th century regalia rings a loud bell and welcomes veterans at the Baltimore airport.
"A lot of these men never had a welcome home,” said Fred Taylor, who’s dressed as a town crier. “And it’s my chance to give them a welcome home."
Forty San Antonio veterans arrived in Baltimore on Friday to cheers and applause that many of these soldiers, airmen, sailors, and Marines never knew during their active duty.
It's the ninth trip organized by Honor Flight San Antonio, a local 501(c)3 nonprofit which is part of the Honor Flight Network. The concept began more than a decade ago as a means to assist aging World War II veterans see the memorial on the Washington Mall dedicated to the war in which they fought.
The trips now include Korean and Vietnam War veterans.
"I want to go to the wall,” said Vietnam Veteran Col. Walter Lyssy. “And I'd like to go with fellow soldiers."
Col. Lyssy grew up in McCook, Texas but lives in San Antonio now. He spent a career in the Army Signal Corps, including one tour as a captain in Vietnam with the 101st Airborne, where he lost two men.
"As they were walking off the landing zone, one of the radio operators stepped on a booby trap. We had a lot of booby traps,” he recalled. "But it killed him and the other radio operator right there. I'm the guy who selected them, and who do you select? Your best soldiers."
It was 1971. The war was supposed to be winding down.
"Sent ‘em out, and they didn't come back," he said.
Col. Lyssy has plenty of maps and articles about exactly what happened, but the details that matter are two names: Daryll Clodfelter and Billy Ray Price.
In Washington D.C., the veterans spent an entire day visiting the monuments to individual branches of the military, including the Navy Memorial, the Marines’ Iwo Jima Memorial, and the sprawling Air Force Memorial.
Then on day two, the war memorials. They start with a presentation of colors and a bugler playing “Taps” at the World War II Memorial. Then, just as the rain began to fall, they approached the Vietnam Wall.
Hundreds of other visitors brave the dreary weather alongside the San Antonio veterans. Some use umbrellas or raincoats. Others have nothing to shield them from the light rain.
More than 58,000 names of servicemembers lost in the Vietnam War are etched in panels of black granite. Even knowing which panel, individual names can be hard to find.
“I like the idea that every name is up here,” Col. Lyssy said.
As he searched for Price and Clodfelter by panel and by line, other Honor Flight veterans admit that the dark Wall can bring up powerful emotions, even more than 40 years after the fighting ended.
"I never wanted to come because I've got friends here, right here on this panel,” Vietnam Veteran Walter Foster said. “And my family and friends talked me into coming. It's hard, but it's beautiful."
"Very sad, you know? I've had a long, great, wonderful life,” said John Boswell, another Vietnam veteran. “And these guys’ lives were snuffed out when they were still in their teens or twenties. War is hell.”
Finally, Col. Lyssy finds the two names he came to see.
"There's Darryl Clodfelter, 20 years old, and Billy Ray Price, 19 years old, radio operators,” he said pointing high on a black granite panel. “It’s emotional. The big thing is, you have a whole platoon of soldiers, but who do you pick to go do important jobs? The good guys. And then they pay the price."
Some who visit the Vietnam War Memorial don't talk about the loved ones lost, but want a pencil rubbing of their names.
Nearby, a woman breaks into tears as she kneels to make a rubbing of one name.
Even at the Vietnam War Memorial, many people spontaneously extend a hand to thank the veterans. Honor Flight volunteers call it a lesson in living history and long-overdue gratitude.
"It's been really neat to see their faces as they see the people stop and thank them,” said Karen Cooper, an Honor Flight volunteer guardian. “People of all ages stopping and thanking them, and that's been a neat experience. That's probably what I've loved the most."
Next, the San Antonio veterans make their way to the Korean War Memorial, which can also evoke strong emotions.
Then they load onto buses for a quick trip home to a grateful hometown crowd.
Hours later in San Antonio, hundreds of friends, family, volunteers, and airmen line the hallways of the San Antonio airport, cheering and waving flags and handmade posters, thanking the veterans for their service, regardless of the branch of service or the war.
“Welcome home,” shout several Boy Scouts in line.
But always on the minds of these veterans are those who never returned.
"Wishing that those two young guys could’ve had a life, could’ve had a wife, could’ve had kids. They would be grandpas now, and they're not. That was the end of it," Col. Lyssy said.
And what do the Vietnam vets want all Americans to know?
“That the great overwhelming majority of the U.S. servicemen in Vietnam were good, honorable soldiers who went and did their duty,” Col. Lyssy said. “And fought for their country and then came home."
The airport ceremony included a presentation of colors, the national anthem, a presentation of custom quilts for each Honor Flight veteran, and, most importantly, eternal gratitude from those for whom these Americans served.