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WWII Veterans Receive Heroes' Welcome

Photos and Essay by Karen Tam

Excitement filled the air as hundreds of folks waited at the Raleigh-Durham International Airport for the return of the Triangle Flight of Honor. Being a photojournalist, I was drawn to the oversized photos taken during World War II of young men and women, their animated faces full of energy and purpose.

Some 100 North Carolina WWII veterans spent Nov. 4 in Washington, D.C., visiting the U.S. National World War II Memorial and being honored for their service over 65 years ago. A Heroes' Welcome Home Party was the grand finale to their long day, as strangers and loved ones waited to embrace the returning vets.

Robert P. Jones, 90, sat quietly at the airport Thursday night and waited for his retirement community buddy, Ed Voss, to return from Washington. Jones, also a World War II vet, said he was not up for all the hullabaloo that went along with these honor flights.

As I walked through the crowd, I wondered how my own father would have reacted to the "hullabaloo." My father died in 1992 and never got to hear the adulation for his generation -- "the greatest generation" -- who were being honored with these flights.

Bagpipes sounded and an honor guard appeared to begin the triumphant return of these WWII vets. Some looked stunned, some bemused and others joined in the fun. Folks leaned over to shake their hands, look them in the eye and thank them for their service or give them a hug. Raymond Sugg, 87, of Princeton, N.C., wore his old Army uniform the entire day. He was popular with onlookers who wanted to have their pictures taken with a vet.

It was a grand return for these heroes. As I watched the vets and their families drift back to their cars, I knew my father would have been as touched as any man alive. And he, like me, would have shed a tear for this emotional outpouring of love, support and gratitude.

Senior Correspondent Karen Tam has been a photojournalist for more than 41 years. After 14 years at the News and Observer and The Raleigh Times in Raleigh, N.C., Tam started her freelance career. She has shot photos for Associated Press, The New York Times and The Washington Post along with many local organizations and state newspapers. In August 1955, ten years after the end of the war in the Pacific, Tam, then 9, posed for a photo with her father, Warner D. Tam, and her brother Mark, then 6. Learn more about Triangle Flight of Honor here.

More photo essays:

  • Karen Tam focuses her lens on the first day of 2011 in Cincinnati. See her photos and read her essay here.
  • Billy Barnes returns to his acclaimed photos of the civil rights era. See his photos and read his essay here.
Karen Tam

Senior Correspondent Karen Tam has been a photojournalist for more than 41 years.

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