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Native American veterans welcomed home from Honor Flight #48 with gratitude and pride

The Bakersfield Californian - 11/5/2023

Nov. 4—Friday night's welcome home was different from all other homecomings organized for Honor Flight Kern County veterans returning to Meadows Field Airport in Bakersfield.

But, in many ways, Friday's homecoming was also the same: joyous, yet bittersweet and emotional.

When three men on Flight #48 entered the terminal performing a ceremonial Native American chant, two of them wearing traditional ceremonial dress, everyone present knew something powerful was happening — and for a moment, a hush fell over the crowd.

Then as the three began to lead all 35 veterans and their guardians into the airport terminal, the crowd of more than 100 broke out into cheers and applause.

Tears flowed, smiles glowed as the exhausted travelers made their way between two long rows of family, friends and well-wishers.

"We're waiting for my husband, Jackson Redhawk Copeland. He's a guardian on this flight," Donna Copeland had said earlier as she waited with several relatives for the group of Native American veterans to appear.

When she spoke to her husband on the phone while he was away, she said he told her he couldn't put into words what the experience meant to him.

"He told me, 'You just want to cry,'" Donna Copeland said. "That you can feel it in your bones."

Honor Flight Kern County, with help from the Bakersfield American Indian Health Project, has worked for years on organizing California's first Honor Flight made up of all Native American military veterans.

Last November, when the National Native American Veterans Memorial finally opened, it seemed to open the door for this flight.

Cheryl Renz, one of the leaders of the three-day tour — which included stops at several of the U.S. memorials in and around the nation's capital — said the trip "allowed us to honor the veterans for their service to our country, as well as to share in their cultural ceremonies and traditions.


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