This Juneteeth, retired U.S. Air Force Captain Marian Dee Elder and 25 of her fellow Black veterans will board a plane in Atlanta and fly to Washington D.C.

There, this group will spend the day visiting various commemorative sites. They will share stories, shed tears and strengthen bonds forged by their unique experiences and challenges as Black servicemen and women. 

Elder recalls that she faced discrimination and closed doors as a Black woman in the military.  it was more difficult for Black soldiers to get promotions or selective duty stations, she said. Elder said she believes that racial discrimination has lessened since her enlistment, but she knows that there is a significant history of downplaying Black veterans’ contributions.

“This opportunity to go on this Juneteenth flight is just a way of, to me, a recognition that African Americans are important, did play a significant role in the military and it’s about time we got recognized,” Elder said.

Dee Elder

In Washington, D.C., these Veterans will visit the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery. When they return to Georgia Wednesday evening, the group will continue to celebrate Juneteenth and one another as they wrap up the inaugural Juneteenth “Honor Flight.”

Historically, Black veterans are some of the least recognized soldiers in American military history. African Americans have fought alongside white soldiers dating back to the American Revolution, throughout the World Wars and in conflicts overseas since then. Despite their equal service and sacrifice, for decades America’s Black veterans received a sliver of the recognition and celebration that white veterans did. 

The Juneteenth tribute put together by the Honor Flight Network is a celebration tailor-made for veterans. Since 2005, the Honor Flight Network has provided veterans with all-expenses-paid round-trip flights to the United States capital, where they spend the day touring memorials. 

This experience gives veterans from across Georgia are included in the chance to meet one another and memorialize history. The new Juneteenth Honor Flight is particularly special because Black veterans share a unique past that outsiders white veterans cannot fully comprehend.

John McCaskill, Honor Flight Network board member and historian, attests to the unique effect the flights have had on so many veterans.

“It is what Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes called the ‘incommunicable experience of war,’” said McCaskill. “Unless you’ve experienced combat, you wouldn’t understand, and it wouldn’t do any good for [veterans] trying to explain it. They couldn’t explain it in a language that you could understand. But when they are around each other, it allows them to release some things and to heal from some things.”

Elder, or “Captain Dee” as she was called, began service in the Army in 1973 and went on to serve in the Navy before retiring from the Air Force in 1996. Elder primarily served delivering health care, beginning with driving ambulances and giving physical exams and then getting an associate’s degree in nursing to serve in the Navy and Air Force. She went on to become a flight nurse and retired as a captain.

Elder found out about the Juneteenth Honor Flight by word of mouth at a Veterans Affairs medical center and found herself especially interested in this special Juneteenth trip.

“Juneteenth, the holiday, is an important holiday for all African Americans,” said Elder. “That’s emancipation. So that was a sign of freedom, and as a veteran, I fought for our freedom while I was in the service during wartime. So it’s important that I can be a part – it’s like I’m making history.”

Juneteenth, a federal holiday since 2021, is an annual commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation took effect, freeing all enslaved people in the Confederate states. But the freedom didn’t spread to territory still controlled by Confederates. In Texas, freedom wasn’t realized until much later.

On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and the army announced more than 200,000 enslaved people were freed, hence the celebration of the day as Juneteenth. In 2021, Congress designated June 19 as a federal holiday.

Georgians across the state celebrate this holiday in a variety of ways throughout the whole week. From the Taste of Juneteenth festival in Dublin last Saturday, the day-of Juneteenth Augusta Festival all the way to Savannah’s Juneteenth Fine Arts Festival next Saturday, Georgians are memorializing and celebrating. 

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