By Samantha Bambino
I-95 was completely shut down. Police officers lined the highway and banners flew from the tops of firetrucks. No celebrities or politicians were in town, but rather several hundred brave men who served the country years ago. This was the Bucks County Tour of Honor.
On Oct. 2, Bucks will host its third annual trip for Korean War and WWII veterans to Washington, D.C. The Tour of Honor is a county-wide project, and the sole purpose is to honor local veterans’ sacrifice to the United States. The day kicks off at Parx Casino at 4:30 a.m., where breakfast is served and everyone prepares for the packed day ahead.
About six coach buses are filled, and the Tour receives a personal escort from various police departments in the area all the way to D.C. The escort is complete with firetrucks, banners, flags and billboard messages to make their presence known to passing drivers. I-95 and State Road are completely shut down.
The mission of the Tour of Honor is to allow veterans in the Bucks County area to visit memorials that are true symbols of the country they fought for. Stops include Arlington National Cemetery at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier for the Changing of the Guard and Wreath Laying Ceremony, Air Force Memorial, Korean War Memorial and World War II Memorial.
After all stops are completed in D.C., the Tour makes its way back to Parx Casino by 8:30 p.m. for a “Welcome Home” celebration, with more than 1,000 people awaiting the veterans’ arrival. The night includes dinner and entertainment, and this year is set to include five local high school bands and choirs. The veterans also receive handwritten letters from children in the area thanking them for their service.
“It’s a pretty intense day, but it’s for them, something they deserve,” Tour of Honor Chairman and Bucks County Recorder of Deeds Joseph Szafran said.
Family and friends are invited to join the Tour as guardians. Szafran explained the Korean War and WWII veterans are required to have a guardian since they are older. Most bring spouses or children, but a guardian can be provided for them if needed. The Tour is free of charge for all veterans, and $30 per guardian. The cost includes breakfast, a jacket and, most importantly, the joy of taking part in the special day.
In addition to the October trip, there will be one on June 5 exclusively for Vietnam veterans. These men and women are a little younger, so they are not required to have a guardian present. There are 276 registered for this trip.
The October Tour of Honor is set to be a memorable one. In a previous year, Szafran said they had a 101-year-old attend. This year, a 103-year-old will participate in the journey to D.C.
“We plan to continue offering the Bucks County Tour of Honor trips until such time as all veterans have been served who may have interest and are able to travel,” Szafran said. ••