‘People who look like me have helped defend this country': Juneteenth honor flight brings Black veterans to DC

Honor Flight takes veterans from around the country to see the national monuments in D.C. It's a VIP trip around the District, and an emotional one for some of the visitors.

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Visiting the national monuments in Washington, D.C. is different for a veteran. It's especially different for the Black men and women who haven't received proper recognition for their service and sacrifices.

"The first time I went out on a mission in Vietnam, I saw people getting killed and it's a traumatic experience for me," said Dennis Brazil, a Vietnam War veteran. "I still live with emotional scars and trauma."

For centuries, soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice, defending the United States. But many times, Black servicemembers are left out of the history books.

But this year, Honor Flight -- an organization that takes veterans to see the national monuments -- hopes to change that by recognizing the Black veterans who sacrifice and served, on its first-ever Juneteenth honor flight trip.

"Well, this generation has to see these men and see what they've done, and realize, 'hey, people who look like me have helped defend this country,'" said John McCaskill, a member of Honor Flight. "Over 209,000 men of color helped defend the country during the American civil war and that's huge."

The organization flew dozens of African American veterans from Atlanta, Georgia to the District, where they visited national monuments and reflected on their service.

It's a VIP trip around D.C., and an emotional one for some of the visitors.

"I can't explain it," said Wardell Leanard, a U.S. Army veteran. "I'm trying to soak it all in. I've never been this close to the memorial, but it's a whole different feeling when you get this close and see the faces of those guys."

As they gaze at each memorial, the veterans are reminded of both the challenges they endured, and what Juneteenth truly means today.

Juneteenth is the federal holiday marking the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas learned they had been freed, two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It's a day for reflection and learning, but also a day for celebration.

"Every day should be Juneteenth," said Brazil. "This country should come to a point in time where everyone should recognize your ethnicity, your heritage."

For the Atlanta veterans, and Honor Flight, that celebration comes with the hope that all soldiers will continue to be recognized in the future.

"Let me tell you, they served this country and we want to celebrate them," said McCaskill.

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