PEORIA Ill. (WMBD) — Seventy-five U.S. military veterans made their way into the Gen. Wayne A. Downing Peoria International Airport early Tuesday morning for the 2023 Greater Peoria Honor Flight.

The veterans crammed into the airport awaiting their flight to Washington, D.C. where they’ll spend the day on a whirlwind free-of-charge trip to visit the war memorials within the nation’s capital. Among the places they’ll see are the World War II Memorial as well as the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

Ed Smith served during peacetime between the Korean and Vietnam War. He said he’s only visited Washington D.C once in the early 70s, and he’s honored to have the opportunity to visit the nation’s capital once more.

“I’m grateful to whoever is the organization to make this happen, look at this crowd it’s unbelievable,” he said.

Multiple World War II veterans, some just shy of 100 years old, also boarded the plane to Washington. Phil Dralle served in the Vietnam War as a part of the 4th Infantry Division and hopes for a chance to hear the stories of those who served before him.

“My dad was in World War II, he was there on D – day, and it’s always been a thing of mine just to sit down and talk to them and hear a story or two from them and just how much I appreciate what they did for this country,” Dralle said.

The flight took off just after 7 a.m. and veterans will board buses in Washington where they will be taken to the various memorials. It’s a whirlwind tour that ends late Tuesday when a large crowd gathers at the airport to welcome the vets back home. In total, it’s about 14 hours from start to finish. Each veteran has a guardian, usually a friend or a family member, to help them throughout the day.