Marian Dee Elder was told she wouldn’t make it through basic training, but she defied the odds and has served in three different military branches for a total of 22 years. Now, at 69 years old, she is one of 26 Black veterans selected to participate in an honor flight to Washington, D.C., in celebration of Juneteenth.

The trip, organized by the Honor Flight Network, will take the group to various monuments and landmarks in the nation’s capital to honor their service. This is the first Juneteenth trip organized by the program, which aims to recognize and celebrate the contributions of African American service members.

Elder, along with other attendees, including a 101-year-old veteran, three Purple Heart recipients, and four women, is grateful for the opportunity. She first learned about the trip through a network of women’s organizations in Atlanta and decided to apply.

The Honor Flight Network was established in 2005 to provide veterans with all-expenses-paid trips to Washington, D.C., to commemorate their service. Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in Texas in 1865, is considered a “Second Independence Day” and was declared a federal holiday three years ago.

John McCaskill, a member of the National Board of Directors of the Honor Flight Network, initiated the idea for this special trip to encourage more African American service members to participate in the program. He hopes that by honoring these veterans, it will inspire others to join in the future.

Elder’s military journey began in 1973 when she joined the Army, following in her brother’s footsteps. Despite facing discrimination based on her race and gender throughout her service, she persevered and served in the Navy and Air Force as well. She traveled to various countries and states during her time in the military, gaining valuable experiences along the way.

While the landscape for Black and female service members has improved since Elder first enlisted, there is still work to be done in terms of recognition and appreciation. Elder had to fight for nearly a decade to receive full compensation for her service-connected disabilities, highlighting the challenges that some veterans face even after their service has ended.

This trip to Washington, D.C., holds special significance for Elder, as she looks forward to visiting the Women’s Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. Despite being stationed in the area previously, she has never had the chance to witness the changing of the guard at the cemetery, making this trip even more meaningful for her.

As the group of Black veterans prepares to embark on their journey to the nation’s capital, they carry with them a legacy of service, sacrifice, and resilience. Their stories serve as a reminder of the contributions made by African American service members throughout history, and the importance of honoring and recognizing their service.