As a group of 102 Purple Heart Veterans prepares for a journey of a lifetime on Purple Heart Day, emotions are evident.

Honor Flight Northeast Indiana will be transporting the veterans and their guardians on a first of it’s kind flight to pay tribute to their service and sacrifice.

Dale Wilkinson, a 74-year-old Vietnam War veteran clears his throat as he looks at one of his two Purple Heart medals. “That definitely brings back a lot of memories of what we went through,” says the proud Marine. “A lot of hard times, but then the camaraderie kicks in for the ones that came back, and how tough it’s been to lose some of them.”

Vietnam Veteran Dale Wilkinson talks with WANE15’s Pat Hoffmann before his Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. which will honor Purple Heart Veterans.

Cathy Berkshire, President of HFNEI says, “It will be an experience unlike anything we’ve ever had. We’re the largest contingent of Purple Heart veterans to ever visit Washington D.C. on a trip like this.”

Cecilia Fravel, a Purple Heart recipient looks forward to the trip, “I think it will be overwhelming for me,” She says. “But, at the end of the day, we’re going to be closer.”

U.S. Army Specialist(E-4), Cecilia Fravel was active duty from 2007-2014. “We had a vehicle explosion, estimated around 2,700 pounds,” she says. “A couple of friends, including myself, were injured.”

“I do remember a lot of it after everything happened. I could see my friends in bunkers. I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience, looking at everyone and observing what was happening. It was a hard day.”

Bo Kurtz had a similar experience. “September of 2006,” he says with a calm voice. “I was doing route clearance and got hit by an I-E-D and got my eardrums blown, concussion, and all that.”

Purple Heart Recipient, Bo Kurtz knew he wanted to serve his country after experiencing 9-11 as a high school student. He enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating.

Wilkinson flips through an old photo album of his days in Vietnam. “This gentleman over here was at one time, my best buddy,” he says with pain in his voice. “The day our company got wiped out, he got killed. We actually lost 19 that day and within the week, we lost nine more.”

Berkshire says it’s a powerful reminder of the sacrifices made by these brave men and women.

President of Honor Flight Northeast Indiana, Cathy Berkshire, says it will be a busy, but rewarding day of healing for the veterans on the flight.

“These are very highly decorated veterans that served our country.”

“Of the 102 veterans, we have 124 Purple Hearts and we have 188 medals in all. Many of them with valor.”

“I was hit nine different times in Vietnam,” says Wilkinson. “I have two Purple Hearts because I turned the rest of them down. I wouldn’t let them give them to me.”

This flight will be a welcome home that Wilkinson and his fellow Vietnam veterans never got.

“I went to California to get discharged, and they told us, don’t wear your uniform. I said, I earned the right to wear my uniform, and I wore it. But, when I got to Los Angeles, I was spit on.”

“They called me baby killer and all kinds of names, but I turned around and walked away because I had my uniform on, and I respected the Marine Corps, and I respected my country.”

It’s that kind of love for the country that inspired Kurtz to become a Marine. “I signed up after 9-11,” he says. “I was a junior in high school when that happened and I knew right then that I wanted to serve my country.”

A Boot Camp Graduation photo from Dale Wilkinson’s photo album.

Berkshire says it will be a busy, but rewarding day. “I think it will be a healing experience for a lot of the veterans.”

Kurtz’s guardian on the trip will be one of his old Marine buddies. “It will be great just having somebody that I went to battle with overseas,” he says. “I think everybody is excited to go and be with other people that served and went through the same kind of things.”

One of Dale Wilkinson’s two Purple Heart Medals.

“I think it’s going to be kind of overwhelming for me,” says Fravel. “But I think at the end of the day, we’re going to be closer. We’ll have new friendships and we’ll build together as the day goes on.”

Wilkinson knows the value of a trip like this. “You’ve got to be a good listener,” he says. “They’ll open up. It may take half a day in Washington before they do, or they’ll open up on the way back, but they’ll open up and it will be good for them.”

“A little closure,” he adds. “It’s definitely needed.”