Ralls County shows up big for Great River Honor Flight homecoming

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Richard Cerretti of Hannibal, center, arrives home from the Great Honor Flight with his son, John Cerretti, left. | Megan Duncan

CENTER, Mo. — Veterans returning home from the Great River Honor Flight to Ralls County Elementary School Thursday evening received a warm welcome that might not have happened when they came home the first time.

Thirty-three veterans were on board of the 65th Great River Honor Flight for their whirlwind trip to Washington DC on Thursday. Twenty-seven of them were Ralls County residents, making the elementary school an easy choice for the homecoming reception.

Supporters lined the circular drive in front of the school with flags, signs welcoming the veterans home and thanking them for their service, more than an hour before the bus arrived. 

When the veterans arrived, they were escorted by a parade of 104 motorcycles.

Ralls County showed up big. Carlos Fernandez, chair of the Great River Honor Flight Board, said it’s the biggest turnout they have had yet for a homecoming reception.

“We showed up here tonight to this incredible and amazing reception,” he said. “This was a turnout that just blew the socks off of everyone. This is what they deserve.”

Fernandez said the flight and the day was an especially smooth one with no hiccups and great weather. A highlight of the trip was a presentation of certificates at the Women’s Memorial to the three female veterans on board.

“That was a special thing,” he said. “The Women’s Memorial offers that as an option, so every time we have a female veteran, we want to do that.”

Eva Leake, who served with the army in Charleston, S.C., was one of the female veterans on the flight. She was escorted by her daughter, Beth Asbury. The day was an emotional one for Leake, who teared up as she spoke of visiting the memorials.

“When we went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and saw the Changing of the Guard, you can read about it but until you see it,” she shook her head with emotion, unable to finish her sentence. “You just don’t expect it.”

Leake said she was overwhelmed and thankful for the greeting they received when arriving home.

Betty Trower, a first grade teacher at Ralls County Elementary, was among the crowd and happy to see many of her students there too. Trower said her summer school class of first, second and third graders have been discussing what the honor flight means. 

Trower is a regular at the Great River Honor Flight receptions, as her daughter serves as a junior board member. Her students have also written letters to some of the veterans to put in their packs for the flight.

Cormac Van Cleave, 9, of Hannibal was waiting to greet his two uncles who were on board the flight. Cormac was thankful for his freedom.

“We are here today to welcome the people from the Army coming back from the honor flight and celebrating them for serving our country,” he said. “Because they are giving us a chance to live and be free.”

Beth Asbury, left, and her mother, Eva Leake, second from left, are greeted upon their arrival home.
Harper Van Cleave holds up a star up while her brother, Cormac, and little sister, Elinor, hold up flags behind her.

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