In a journey that, at times, must have seemed like it never would get off the ground, military veterans and guardians traveling with Honor Flight of the Quad-Cities wrapped up their whirlwind visit to Washington, D.C., late Thursday with a return to Quad-City International Airport in Moline.
The 162 travelers, part of the Quad-City chapter's 25th flight, saw their expectation of seeing memorials and other sights in the nation's capital jeoparized by the partial government shutdown, which closed National Park Service locations.
Gila Cowan of Erie, Ill., waited for her husband, Bill, 81, to return from the flight. He served in the Navy from 1950 through 1955.
"You just can't imagine how excited he was to be taking this trip," his wife said. "He's going to talk to me about it all night."
Andrew Younger stood with his wife, Marion, and daughter, Kaidynce. He held a photo of his father, Marvin Younger, a Marine who was caught in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea.
"He was excited about going, but mostly, it was the chance to be around people who have the same experiences and share the same memories," Andrew Younger said.
The flight got off to a rocky start Thursday morning after the Sun Country charter struck an owl upon landing at the airport in Moline. That delayed departure by three hours.
Once in D.C., the veterans were able to visit the WWII and Korean monuments — especially meaningful because the group was made up mostly of those who served in Korea — as well as the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.
Although the group was aware of the incident in which a driver was shot and killed after she led police on a chase through streets between the White House and Capitol, it did not interfere with their travels.
Among lawmakers meeting the group were Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Mark Kirk, R-Ill., and Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 7 a.m., but the incident led to a three-hour delay as a mechanic from Carver Aero in Davenport worked on the Boeing 737 with assistance from Sun Country’s engineering team in Minneapolis. While the flight looked uncertain for a couple of hours, officials with Honor Flight and the airline were checking out other options including trying to find another plane to bring in, another airline to assist or the what they called “worst-case scenario” of cancelling the flight.
Co-pilot Jody Breuer apologized to the anxious veterans and guardians as they waited to learn if the plane was grounded for the day. Walking through the crowd, she shook each veteran’s hand, thanking them for their service.
She also had been planning to accompany the group to the memorials. “I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it weren’t for all of you,’’ she said.