PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — The nearly 70 Bay Area veterans on Tuesday’s Honor Flight mission to Washington, D.C. returned home to a heroes welcome at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

“Never been as welcomed in my life anywhere, it’s awesome,” said Sam McMechan, an Army veteran from Citrus County.

It was an awesome ending to a day filled with memories the veterans will never forget. They visited the war memorials and posed for photos in front of the monuments.

“I’ve been to Washington over the years, but never seen it like we seen it today and it was just impressive,” Air Force veteran Frank Vanore said.

The Dunedin resident enlisted in the Air Force in 1965 when he was 19-years-old.

“It brought back some of the times,” Vanore said of the trip, “because a lot of us on the plane were Vietnam era.”

The Honor Flights bring together veterans from different branches of the military. Marie Everhart of New Port Richey served in the Navy.

“I’m overwhelmed,” Everhart said. “It was wonderful. It was just so meaningful to know we’re so appreciated means a lot.”

Grateful for the gratitude shown to them, the veterans encourage others who served to not miss out on this patriotic experience.

“All the veterans, men and women, you will be surprised in the honor they bestow upon you,” Vanore said. “You deserve it.”

Organizers say they are giving top priority to veterans who were on previously scheduled flights in 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic.

The next Honor Flight of West Central Florida is already set to take off on October 18.