Two planes carrying 117 veterans and their guardians left Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport early April 20 for Washington, D.C. The Korean War and Vietnam War veterans were headed to the nation’s capital to visit the memorials built in their honor. The We Energies Foundation proudly sponsored Stars and Stripes Honor Flight’s 73rd mission.

“We consider it an honor to pay tribute to military heroes by backing Stars and Stripes Honor Flight. Every moment of the journey, from takeoff to landing, showcases our deep admiration and respect for those who have served our nation,” said Beth Straka, president — We Energies Foundation.

In addition to sponsoring the planes, We Energies employees volunteered at the airport, served as guardians to veterans on the flights and wrote hundreds of thank-you cards to show their appreciation for those being honored.

“Honor Flight days are so special,” said Erin Ganzenmuller, senior environmental consultant, and a veteran herself, who volunteered in the morning to send the veterans off. “It’s a privilege to witness these veterans experience their day and to have an opportunity to thank them.”

Bill Mastoris, executive vice president — customer service and operations, served as a guardian for a veteran who served in Korea. Guardians play a significant role on every Stars and Stripes Honor Flight, ensuring each veteran has a safe and memorable experience. They assist veterans at the airport, during the flights and at the memorials.

Mastoris, a veteran himself, noted that many veterans were quiet, reserved and reflective throughout the day as they took in the memorials, but their demeanor changed to joy and appreciation at the end of their journey when they were welcomed home.

A veteran told Cortney Roberts, manager—integration and process implementation, that the highlight of his day was getting to experience the monuments, but he was more astonished by the homecoming parade.

“The pride and appreciation went both ways, from volunteers to veterans and back again. It was so special getting to experience this firsthand,” Roberts said.

Over 1,000 people cheered on the veterans as they arrived back in Milwaukee.

Mastoris’ veteran was surprised by the crowd and then by his family, whom he wasn’t expecting to see at the airport.

After seeing the veteran shaking hands, hugging and soaking in the gratitude from the crowd, Mastoris asked him if he had a good day.

The veteran replied, “No, I had an awesome day!”