By Doug Dunbar
(credit: CBS 11)

(credit: CBS 11)

NEW YORK (CBSDFW.COM) – The overnight:

It was an emotional and honored send-off for the North Texas D Day veterans (pictured above) from JFK airport. If any city, region and state knows how to honor Vets and first responders, New Yorkers do. Our D Day men were treated to a wonderful lunch upon landing, and then the full red carpet treatment. Literally. A red carpet lined the center of the concourse leading to gate 12 at JFK. Lining both sides of the carpet, no less than two-dozen large American flags. A flag bearing honor guard led the way and bag pipers played. Some of our vets walked, most took advantage of a wheelchair escort. Those same once strong legs that led them through the surf and up Omaha and Utah beaches on June 6, 1944, are not as sturdy as they once were.

During a roughly 20 minute service, the men were treated to a medley of songs honoring them. The chief of New York’s fire department delivered a stirring message of thanks. All the while, dozens and dozens of passengers, on their way to points around the country and world, took the time to stop. They removed hats, and bowed heads, when a bugler played “taps.” Also among the crowd, members of the NYPD, and a number of American Airlines employees, from gate agents, to pilots, to ramp workers. Just prior to our takeoff, the captain on board flight 44 came over the loudspeaker. His first message to passengers was to welcome the North Texas WWII veterans who were honored guests on board today. I watched a number of them smile when they heard the message. The “thank you” had begun. They are receiving the message. That’s the focus of this mission for Dallas-based “Daughters of WWII.” They will be in charge of these men from departure to arrival back in the U.S.

American Airlines has donated the seats these men sit in on flight 44 through their “Veterans Initiative” program. It’s a behind-the-scenes effort at American that every employee can take part in, to help a current military member, a veteran, or family of either, get to someplace important, from rehabilitation at a military hospital, to returning to the sands of Normandy, as we do tonight. I’ll have a close look at this unique program on Sunday night, June 9 on CBS11 News at ten, which will kick off our week of sharing the incredible stories we’re about to witness as we spend the next 7 days in France with these members of American’s Greatest Generation.

We’re at 35,000 feet, heading toward the dark night sky to the east. This evening, we travel in the comfort of an airplane, at 500 miles per hour, with the freedom to fly to Paris. In this moment, I can’t help but think about the night before the allied invasion of France, and our troops heading east as well, in the complete darkness, through rough ocean waters, stuffed into Higgins boats. In those moments, with the bravery of those men, had things turned out differently, would we be able to fly to Paris as we do tonight? Would these men be free to revisit the site of their unselfish acts as we’re about to do? The simple answer is we don’t know. I hate to think about what course this world would have taken had the Nazi movement not been stopped. Had the liberation of France been a failure. Fortunately, what we do know, is that we are heading back, and we have the freedom to do so, because the men on board this big plane tonight played an important role in one of the most pivotal moments in the history of our world.

The long overnight, and tough arrival day is nearly done. Time to rest, in the morning, we head to Normandy. Bonsoir.

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