HEBRON, Ky. -- The country's first-ever law enforcement "honor flight" returned home Tuesday night to a waiting crowd of 1,000 well-wishers at Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky Airport.
Honor Flight Network organizers said they had never seen such a large turnout to welcome passengers home.
"We need more of this in America," Chief Jim Gilbert, who accompanied his Vietnam veteran father Harry and brother Officer Eric Gilbert on the trip, said.
"(It was) overwhelming," Harry Gilbert added. "I never dreamed something like this. … I am at a loss for words."
The Honor Flight Network recognizes veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C., to visit memorials dedicated to the wars in which they fought. Tuesday night's was special in that, like Harry Gilbert, every passenger honored by the trip was a veteran who entered law enforcement when they left the military.
Gilbert served in the Army for three years in Vietnam, then returned home to work in the Cincinnati Police Department for nearly three decades. Tom Kellison, a Marine Corps medic who served four years in the Korean War, spent around the same amount of time in CPD: Exactly 30 years from 1957 to '87.
"Look at this," he said, gesturing to the crowd at CVG. "You cannot explain this. All these people tonight -- it's incredible."
Like Harry Gilbert, former Cincinnati Police Chief Larry Whalen made the trip with family. His son, University of Cincinnati director of public safety Jim Whalen, accompanied his father through the somber moments of remembrance in Washington and the enthusiastic welcome in Hebron.
"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "You never get a chance to take a trip like that and come home to a reception like this."