INDIANAPOLIS — Saturday night, 86 veterans were celebrated as they returned home to Indianapolis after taking part in an Indy Honor Flight to Washington, D.C.

For the first time in two years, the program was able to carry veterans to see the memorials that were built in their honor. The flights were put on hiatus due to the pandemic.

“We mourn the ones we’ve lost while we’ve been waiting for the program to get started again,” said Trina Winegardner, president of the board of directors for Indy Honor Flight. “Right now, we have a little over a thousand on our waiting list.”

“It’s just great to be back in the air with these veterans.”

The organization hopes to do three or four more flights this year to try and catch up. These flights offer a special moment for veterans, as they reflect on the purpose the trip serves.

“A lot of them weren’t able to get out there, especially after the World War II memorial was built. It was built so long after the war ended. So that’s what’s started the Honor Flight was the World War II memorial,” Winegardner said.

“A lot of it’s for closure. A lot of the Vietnam veterans weren’t treated the best when they came home from the war. And a lot of them, it’s a little bit of healing when they go out there and they can actually see that people do appreciate them and thank them for what they did for our country.”

“A lot of it’s for closure. A lot of the Vietnam veterans weren’t treated the best when they came home from the war.”

Each time the flights return, the organization holds a homecoming celebration with family, friends and the community at large invited to welcome the veterans back home.

Saturday night’s celebration was held at Decatur Central High School with dozens packing into the gym to welcome home the 86 veterans.

“We invite family, friends, neighbors anybody that wants to come out, you don’t even have to know a veteran on the flight. Just come out, be patriotic, cheer for everybody as they come in the gymnasium, give them the welcome home that maybe they didn’t get when they came home from the service,” Winegardner said.

A lot of the veterans are unaware that their family and friends have been invited to welcome their return. Winegardner added that when they walk into the gym, it can be a touching and moving moment for them.

These homecomings do more than just celebrate the veterans and their service.

“It’s bringing the community together. We hear more and more people say ‘Oh, you’re with the Honor Flight, we know what that is, we’ve been to a homecoming, we enjoy it, we’d like to come back, we’d like to be part of it, we’d like to volunteer’,” said Winegardner.

For more information, including how to volunteer, just go to the Indy Honor Flight website.