The recent death of a local war hero is creating a new sense of urgency for organizers with a group called, Honor Flight- Austin.
Twenty-five Central Texas WWII veterans took part in the inaugural Honor Flight- Austin trip to Washington. It was a final mission to a memorial dedicated to the bravery and sacrifice of a generation known as the greatest.
Travis Budlong always had a smile and a sense of pride. As a young bomber pilot Budlong flew one of the last raids over Japan in a B-29 named for his hometown of Gainesville. After the war, he returned to Texas, got married and started a successful career. On August 8, a few weeks from his 90th birthday, Travis Budlong passed away after brief illness.
Ann Schneider says her father lived a full life and the trip in June to the National World War Two Memorial brought that life full circle.
"I think it was the best thing that could ever to have happened to him," said Schneider.
The day he went to the hospital, Travis Budlong was scheduled to speak about his trip. His daughter, who went with him, says she'll give the speech for her dad and share the joy it gave them both.
"We're lucky that he stayed for 90 years. He stayed very young and I will say this was a tremendous way and honor to send him off," said Schneider.
With his passing, it's now estimated there are about 700 WWII veterans still living in Central Texas.
A replica of the Texas pillar at the National Memorial can be found among the monuments at the State Capitol Complex. A trip to see the real one is to take place in October.
The spontaneous hero's welcome during these trips can energize the old warriors. The second Austin Honor Flight will be larger than the first, 50 veterans are booked to go.
"To me, what I saw and what you just said, it gives them that spark back in their life it gives them something that when they're on the trip to have that sense of camaraderie back that sense of pride that sense of ‘wow I was really a part of something that saved the United States,'" said Honor Flight- Austin Board member Christie Johnson.
That was especially true for Travis Budlong. Schneider says her father's eyes lit up as they and the other veterans were greeted by complete strangers who wanted to know more about their lives.
"Stories I've never heard before, so I think that's what my dad appreciated," said Schneider.
For Budlong the trip to the memorial was not just a last mission, it was also a celebration of life. It was also a reminder that time is running out for others who have yet to make this journey.