For Dr. Barry Booth, Tuesday's breakfast celebration at John F. Rhodes Civic Center was an opportunity to give thanks for those who supported a mission he led in offering World War II veterans opportunities to visit Washington, D.C.
Booth, an Eastern Shore dentist, helped organize and lead the Honor Flight South Alabama mission, which provided from 2008-2013, a day-long tour for the veterans to military sites including the World War II memorial, dedicated in 2004.
The trips were capped with emotional homecomings. Approximately 1,000 people showed up at the Mobile Regional Airport for the last Honor Flight homecoming on May 8, 2013.
"Baldwin County, more than any place, supported our honor flight program," Booth, a Vietnam Veteran whose efforts have often been credited with giving 950 veterans an opportunity to visit Washington, D.C., aboard one of the nine flights.
Booth, dressed in an American flag shirt, spoke about the program and thanked supporters who attended the Baldwin County Commission's 10th annual "Day of Thanks" breakfast celebration. The breakfast, free and open to the public, was attended by 50 people.
"You are all part of the Honor Flight family," Booth said. "You made it the success it became."
Each flight was on a chartered airplane and allowed a World War II veteran, at no cost to them, the chance fly from Mobile to Washington, D.C. for a day of visiting a variety of memorials.
The flights were equipped to handle each of the veteran's medical needs. Volunteers, also known as "guardians," accompanied the veterans throughout the day. Each of the nine flights returned to the airport amid cheering throngs of families and supporters.
Similar trips have been held throughout the country. More than 150,000 veterans have traveled to the World War II memorial thanks to the flights, which have occurred in 44 states. "We took 957 World War II veterans to Washington," Booth said. "That's every single World War II veterans within our sphere of influence who wanted to go. No one was left behind."
One of those veterans was U.S. Army Sgt. Jim Nickerson, 98, who was aboard the second Honor Flight. Nickerson, a veteran of the Battle of Kasserine Pass in North Africa and was part of the Allied invasion of Utah Beach during D-Day, spoke about his experiences during the morning breakfast.
Booth and others called Nickerson a true American "hero." "I wanted to thank Dr. Booth who gave me the opportunity (to go on the Honor Flight)," Nickerson said, joking that his wife wanted him to go "to get me out of the house."
Booth said the impact of the flights, and the awareness they generated, are something he's thankful about. "Through meetings like this and presentations, the circle of awareness and the heightened awareness and patriotism continues to go on because of folks like you," he said.