Dozens of flags waved, and families and friends held homemade signs reading “Welcome Home” as 150 veterans returned to Bensalem Monday night from a day-long tour.
But this time, it was for leisure.
Veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War took a trip to Washington, D.C. for the day, visiting memorials from the wars they fought and other sites around the nation’s capital.
As part of the Bucks County Tour of Honor, the trip culminated with a bus caravan and police escort from D.C. to Parx Casino, where hundreds of supporters awaited their arrival. Bands from Bensalem, Neshaminy and William Tennent high schools played patriotic songs and people cheered as the veterans, many of them well into their 90s, exited the buses onto the red carpet for a meal in Parx.
For Ralph Papandrea, an 88-year-old U.S. Army veteran who served in the Korean War, the day was extra special. Four generations of his family came out to see him, including his 9-year-old great grandson, Harrison Gansman.
“He likes as many people to come as possible,” Gansman said, noting that he was proud of his great grandfather because “he was able to survive the whole thing.”
The rest of the Papandreas, numbering at least 15, were more than happy to speak about their hero.
“Our family is such a tight-knit family. We support each other no matter what the cause,” said Cindy Papandrea, a Levittown resident and daughter-in-law to the eldest Papandrea. “It’s a small token that I can give back to everything they’ve given, and they get so little for what they’ve done.”
“I’m really proud of him. I’m just really happy,” she said as tears welled in her eyes.
Each veteran was paired with a guardian for the trip. James Arbuckle, an 89-year-old U.S. Navy veteran who served during World War II, was accompanied by his son, Paul Arbuckle.
Minutes before they arrived, Dorothy, James’ wife, and her daughter-in-law Sandra were waiting for their men to return.
“He couldn’t wait because he hasn’t been with a bunch of veterans in a long time,” Sandra said. “I think that they get the vindication for all their service that they never had when they really came back … the older he gets, the more it means to him to have been a veteran.”
A helicopter flew over the parking lot, followed by police motorcycles with flashing lights and luxury buses in tow.
When the doors opened and the veterans began to step out, the hundreds gathered burst out with cheers, all just to say, “Thank you and welcome home.”