Nearly 70 years after WWII, a group of 86 veterans who served this country got a hero's welcome after they arrived in the nation's capitol -- and the government shutdown didn't shut down their plans.
"It was super great," Al Jaeger, 87, told FOX 9 News. "It really was."
Although Jaeger is back in Minnesota, he's still riding the adrenaline rush.
"There were handshakes and hugs -- a lot of them," he recalled.
Some of those hugs were delivered by the delegation of Minnesota lawmakers.
"I had more hugs in one day than I had in my whole life, I think," Jaeger remarked.
Just like in the days when they were in the service, the veterans were up and at 'em -- arriving at the airport by 5 a.m., arriving 68 years after the allied victory.
The trip had been in the works for months, but on Tuesday, the WWII veterans making the Honor Flight to Washington, DC, found the centerpiece of their trip -- the World War II Memorial -- wouldn't be open to the public.
"The fences were there," Jaeger told FOX 9 News. "They were not tipped over or anything. The signs were taken down, and we could wander at will -- and we did."
Days earlier, another group of veterans crossed the barricades to complete their pilgrimage too.
"The whole affair was something I didn't imagine from the beginning," Jaeger admitted. "The emotions were great. There were a lot of tears shed."
The group of WWII vets also made an emotional journey through Arlington National Cemetery to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
"I think most of us were on top of the world," Jaeger said. "We were recognized for our service and we were told that hundreds of times during this trip, which is appreciated."
Most of the veterans were accompanied by a guardian. Jaeger's was his oldest son, who -- even though he had heard many of his father's war stories -- came away with a new appreciation for his dad's service.
Even at 87, Jaeger was one of the youngest in the group. Many were wheel-chair bound and oxygen-dependent, but they did not let their health -- or a government shutdown -- keep them away.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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