Chuck Stiefel of Lakewood, who served in the military during the Vietnam era, visited Washington D.C. on May 7 as part of an Honor Flight.
"It's a humbling experience," said Stiefel. "When we got to the Springfield airport to leave, there were quite a few people there as a reception committee."
That wasn't the only reception Stiefel and the other Honor Flight members received.
"When we got to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., we went down this sidewalk about 200 feet long and it was lined with people and school kids, grade school and middle school students," Stiefel said. "They had signs greeting us and thanking us."
Then there was a personal moment.
"A little girl, about 8 or 9 years old from Trinity Christian School, walked over to me and gave me her sign to me. It said, 'Thank you for your service.'"
Even after a long day, the "honor" of the Honor Flight continued. They landed back in Springfield about 9 p.m. They were told to wait to be escorted to the baggage area.
"Baggage area?" said Stiefel. "We didn't bring any. Then the one who was to escort us showed up and he had bagpipes and he led us to where 500 or 600 people were to welcome us back, cheering for us. Talk about tears in an old man's eyes."
Stiefel sent in an application to go on a Land of Lincoln Honor Flight about three years ago and his time came. He met the person who would be his guardian on the flight about a month ahead of the flight and went over all the details.
He went to Springfield on May 6 and there was a dinner for the participants. They had to be at the airport at 4:15 a.m. the next day. They ate breakfast and took pictures, then flew to Washington, D.C., on a private flight aboard a 737. He estimates there were about 80 honorees, plus their guardians.
They landed at Reagan National Airport and boarded three buses for their day in the capitol. Their first stop was the World War II Memorial. From there, they went to the Korean War Memorial, then the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Wall.
They ate a box lunch, then drove about 40 minutes to Arlington National Cemetery. They walked around the cemetery and then watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"The sergeant explained to onlookers the procedure, then formally inspected the guard waiting to take his turn. He then marched towards the guard standing watch and saluted the 'Honor Flight' by clicking his heels, with a tap, tap, as he went to relieve the guard."
The honorees also viewed the Iwo Jima Memorial for the Marines and drove through Arlington Cemetery and went to the Air Force Memorial.
"There was one place at Arlington that had several headstones close together for those soldiers whose bodies didn't come back," Stiefel said. "Arlington is 648 acres and there are 400,000 servicemen buried there."
The Honor Flight participants had another box lunch at the airport and flew back home.
"On the way home, we had our 'Last Mail Call' at 30,000 feet," Stiefel said. "We each were given a cloth bag with notes and letters in them from little kids and people from all over."
As they called out the names, Stiefel said there were six or seven people from Teutopolis, one from Stewardson, two or three from Effingham, and some from Pana, Sigel and the Springfield Area.
"I called my brother this weekend," Stiefel said. "He did three tours in Vietnam. I said, 'You have got to take this tour. You ought to go on one of these Honor Flights.'"