Twenty-five veterans and their guardians were greeted with a hero’s welcome Sunday at the Portland International Jetport.

The group was returning from Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight Maine, a nonprofit that provides free trips for veterans to visit memorials on the National Mall.

Several hundred people lined the corridors as the veterans paraded through the airport to cheers, military music and “welcome home” signs.

The veterans ranged in age from 71 to 96. Some served during the Korea and Vietnam wars, and one – John Alexander Wotherspoon of Auburn – served during World War II.

It was the 96-year-old’s first trip to Washington. “I was amazed,” he said with a smile.

“He was in awe, because he hadn’t been to D.C. and hadn’t flown much since he got out of the service,” said Wotherspoon’s nephew Bob Wotherspoon of New Gloucester, who was his guardian on the trip.


John Wotherspoon said he served in the Air Force, working as a tail gunner, but was quick to point out that he didn’t fight in the war.

“I did all my time in the service in the United States,” he said, adding he was about to be sent overseas when the war started winding down.

Bernice DeBlois, 72, of Brooklin, enlisted when she was 18 as the Vietnam War was raging. She wasn’t sent overseas, she said, but lost friends and her boyfriend in the war. Seeing the Vietnam Memorial “meant the most to me,” she said.

Several dignitaries, including Gov. Janet Mills, also turned out to welcome the veterans.

“I have two words for the veterans: Welcome home,” Mills said. “We sincerely appreciate everything you’ve done.

“Your courage, your history, your persistence are traits that we want you to pass on to the continuing generations of Maine, and elsewhere.”


Speaking to Vietnam veterans, Mills said to those who were not recognized upon their return 50 years ago, “we herald it now.”

Portland Police Officer Kevin Haley said he became involved with Honor Flight Maine because his brother, Billy, is buried at the Arlington National Cemetery. Haley frequently welcomes Vietnam War veterans, and read what he called an extraordinary letter from then-President Barack Obama during Sunday’s ceremony.

The letter, written in 2012 for the war’s 50th anniversary, praised a generation who served with honor and valor, paying tribute to the more than 3 million servicemen and servicewomen who left home and pushed through “the jungle and rice paddies, heat and monsoon, fighting heroically to protect the ideals we hold dear as Americans.”

It is never too late to thank the veterans, the letter read.

Matthew Mank, chairman of the board for Honor Flight Maine, said more honor flights to Washington, D.C., are planned this year and that the organization could use more wheelchairs.

Trips are planned for May, September and October. A 101-year-old World War II veteran is signed up for the May trip, Mank said.

The goal, Honor Flight Maine’s Jennifer Libby said, is to “provide the recognition that (veterans) may not have received when they first came home.”

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