WASHINGTON – As soon as Donald Matthiessen's wheelchair rolled from the walkway into the airport, a hand tugged him on his shoulder and he was given a hug from a tall man in an Air Force uniform.
Matthiessen had to take a second look.
Handshakes, hugs and thanks were common Thursday for local veterans taking an Honor Flight to the nation's capital, but once Matthiessen saw who it was, a smile froze on the Sterling man's face.
"I love you," the Korean War veteran said once he figured it out.
Matthiessen's son, George, who he had not seen in 5 years, is stationed in Seymour Air Force Base in Goldsboro, N.C.. about 5 hours south of Washington.
He had surprised his dad.
"I actually got here last night," George said. "I drove up here and stayed the night, so I would have plenty of time, so I wouldn't miss this."
George arrived at Washington Dulles Airport about 9:30 a.m. Thursday. The Honor Flight was scheduled to land about a half hour after that, but was delayed by nearly 3 hours because the plane struck an owl on its way into Moline.
He was getting updates from the USO folks who were at the airport to greet the Honor Flight veterans when they landed, and he knew there was a possibility the flight would be canceled.
"I was just happy I could be here and that he made it with all the trouble they had," George said. "My fear was that the flight would get canceled, which, with everything else going on, I'm very happy they are all here."
George, an aircraft mechanic in the Air Force, hadn't seen his father since before his second tour in Korea in 2008. He's been in the Air Force for about 15 years.
He recently received orders that he will be stationed in England, shortly after Thanksgiving.
George spent the entire visit to Washington with his father, including trips together to the World War II and Korean War memorials.
Donald was drafted as a private first class in the Marines. He said the United States lost so many men in Korea to the Chinese that the Marines sargeant took 20 percent of draftees.
"If you had an IQ over 100, and you were 6 feet tall, you went to the Marines," Donald said.
He served from Jan. 22 to April 21, 1952. He asked for a hardship, when his father died of a heart attack in a tractor accident, and he was the only son to take care of the family farm.
In his twenties when his father died, Donald enjoys the moments he gets with his son.
"[He] made it a very special day," Donald said. "We got to talk about things, talk about the memorial, talk about how I remembered Pearl Harbor. He hasn't changed much. He's about the same as I remember."