MANSFIELD -- A law enforcement escort helped bring more than 40 Richland County military veterans home from the trip of a lifetime.
A trooper with the Ohio State Highway Patrol, a Richland County Sheriff's deputy, and an Ontario police officer met a Veterans' Honor Bus on Sunday evening as it neared the end of a memorable weekend trip to Washington, D.C.
The first of what organizers hope will become an annual event took 41 veterans and eight non-veterans on a trip to visit various memorials in the nation's capitol, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the World War II Memorial.
"We told the veterans they may not have known each other before the trip, but they would bond (together) like you're not gonna believe," said Dean Krance, a U.S. Army veteran who chaired a group of 11 veterans that put the Honor Bus trip together.
"It was a great experience for everyone," said Krance, who formed his committee in January.
The committee, all of whom are veterans, included Larry Corn, Douglas Theaker, Debra Robinson, Executive Director of the Richland County Veterans Service Commission Ken Estep, former Richland County Commssioner Gary Utt, Mike Bailey, Pat James-Hasser, Al Beyer, Richland County Commissioner Darrell Banks and Doc Stumbo.
Krance, Estep, Bailey, Utt, Banks and James-Hasser all went on the trip. The remaining five committee members were all on hand as a group of about 50 to welcome home the veterans.
The bus, arranged through Ashland County veteran Don Way and his All Ways Trans Plus Inc., left the Area Agency on Aging building in Ontario on Friday at 6 a.m., returning to a hero's welcome Sunday at 10:30 p.m.
A long list of sponsors made the trip possible, including two World War II Navy vets, Jack Cowell and Russ Neibel, and a father-daughter duo, both of whom received the Purple Heart -- Timothy Cottrill (U.S. Marine in Vietnam) and Brandy Cottrill-Cox (U.S. Army Reserves in Iraq).
Some of the largest sponsors were The American Legion Department of Ohio Charities ($5,000), Mansfield Association of Realtors ($3,900), Warren Rupp-IDEX AODD Civic Fund ($3,000), Russell & Mary Gimbel Foundation ($3,000) and Ashley Furniture ($3,000).
"All of the donations were greatly and sincerely appreciated," Krance said. "They made a lot of veterans very happy and glad they took the trip."
Elaine Hess was the tour director.
The first stop on the bus trip was the Flight 93 National Memorial in Somerset County, Pa., a site designed to honor the passengers and crew of Flight 93 on 9/11, who stopped the terrorists from reaching their target by fighting the hijackers.
After that, it was on to Washington, D.C., where the local veterans, including several in wheelchairs assisted by guardians, visited and/or toured the historic sites, buildings, monuments and memorials, many of them designed to honor veterans and those who died in battle.
On Sunday afternoon, after a full weekend, the Honor Bus headed home. When it arrived in Ontario, the contingent greeting them included Miss Ohio 2019 Caroline Grace Williams, who sang "The Star Bangled Banner" to welcome them home.
Krance said planning for next year's trip, tentatively set for the last weekend in September, is already underway. He said guidelines on how to apply for the trip will be announced soon.
The group has a Facebook page at Richland County Honor Bus.