For a moment, an elderly World War II veteran from Columbus found himself alone inside a Reagan National Airport terminal near Washington D.C.

But as Ken Ritz entered a corridor, the 89-year-old was surprised to encounter lines of welcoming strangers — all warmly smiling and applauding him.

“That touched me the most,” said Ritz, one of four Bartholomew County veterans who were part of last month’s Indy Honor Flight to Washington D.C.¬† The other three were Bob Condon of Columbus and Ike Wasson and Bob Gilliland of Hope.

When the Mooresville-based Indy Honor Flight program was founded in 2009, the nonprofit’s focus was almost exclusively on honoring elderly World War II veterans.

But due to the passage of time, many of the 178 Hoosiers who made the Sept. 3 trip were Korean War veterans, Ritz said.

As the number of surviving WWII and Korean War veterans continues to dwindle, a few of the oldest Vietnam War veterans are now being invited on the all-expenses paid trip, said Warren Kirk, who served as¬†Condon’s guardian.

Kirk, the 71-year-old pastor of Hope United Methodist Church, said he believes members of his generation stationed in southeast Asia from the late 1950s to the early 1970s may be in most need of a heartfelt thanks.

“While they went through a lot, there’s no question Vietnam War soldiers were the least appreciated after coming home from conflict,” Kirk said.

For more on this story, see Wednesday’s Republic.

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Mark Webber is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at mwebber@therepublic.com or 812-379-5636.