About an hour before the Soaring Valor bird rolled up to the gate at Phoenix Sky Harbor, 18 heroes and their Guardians suited up for one more mission.

But the story begins 75 years ago when millions answered the call to serve -- including 100-year-old Thomas Mason.

"Most families were affected by someone in the service. Aunt, uncle, friend, whatever," Mason said.

Hank Rittmeyer was living on his father's farm when WWII broke out.

"My father begged me to stay and I said, 'No, I'm gone,'" Rittmeyer said. "I wished I'd stayed, let me tell you that."

Laughter soon gave way to spontaneous cheers and applause for this merry band of brothers as they made their way through the airport's A Concourse.

This was followed up by a steady round of applause from passengers eager to show their appreciation and gratitude on behalf of a grateful nation.

Glenn Barrett, a passenger on his way from Boise to Dallas, couldn't resist shaking a few of the hands of the frail heroes.

"They're just heroes, and they deserve our respect," Barrett said. "And a handshake is the least I can be doing for them."

Gary Sinise knew he wanted to salute the "Greatest Generation" with more than a handshake, so through his Gary Sinise Foundation, he created the Soaring Valor program to honor World War II veterans for their sacrifices. Through the program, vets receive a special experience at the National World War II museum.

"We'll spend the whole day at the museum tomorrow and then bring them home," Sinise said. "It's just wonderful to be able to see them actually experience the museum that was built in their honor."

Jonathan Howe is on his way to New Orleans with his grandfather, Bill Schrader. Schrader was a nose gunner in a B-24 stationed in the Pacific.

"I don't think there'll be many dry eyes when we go into that museum," Howe said. "It'll be a real touching moment."

For more information on the foundation go to garysinisefoundation.org.