ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (WFLA) — Families, friends and veterans welcomed home the first Honor Flight of West Central Florida since 2018.

The flight, filled with nearly 150 veterans, guardians and staff landed tonight at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport.

A huge crowd was waiting for them inside the airport where American flags were waving with smiles on all faces.

The veterans left early Tuesday morning in route to Washington D.C. to tour the war memorials and monuments.

“We are here every time they come home,” a Vietnam veteran at the airport told WFLA. “We want veterans to know they are loved and appreciated. Home of the free because of the brave.”

One veteran, 96-year-old Alfred Thomas, had tears in his eyes when he came home.

“My heart is pounding,” he said. “It was awesome. Once in a lifetime experience.”

Dozens of families, friends and veterans welcomed these heroes home, waving American flags and holding homemade signs. They had smiles on their faces and gratitude in their hearts.

The World War II veteran shared with us his hope for our country.

“Think positively, and whatever you do, do for the children. We were children, someone took care of us,” he said.

Alan Ulmer, a 93-year-old veteran of the Korean war was beaming as his wife and daughter welcomed him home. He shared with News Channel 8 how much the day meant to him.

“It’s very special, I don’t have the words to describe it, this is just unreal,” said Ulmer.

It was a day filled with emotion on a flight filled with honor – summed up perfectly by Alfred Thomas, grateful for Honor Flight.

“Thank you, thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.”