By Diane Hiller
One of the things I enjoy most about my job is the interaction with new people every day. A few days ago, I met someone special. We were talking about the weather and I noticed his cap. This man was wearing a War Veteran’s cap. I asked him what war and he responded Viet Nam. He looked hesitantly at me as if wearily waiting for me to say something. I wondered if he was remembering the treatment our Viet Nam Vets experienced after coming home from war. If you were raised in the sixties, the Viet Nam War was the most controversial conflict the USA had ever entered. Unfairly, that sentiment was aimed at the soldiers returning from war. They were spit on, and called terrible names by some who opposed the war. No hero’s welcome for them.
I told him my dad was a WWII veteran. His eyes became teary; as he talked with me about an organization he was involved in, called Honor Flight Chicago. This group sponsors WWII veterans on a trip to the Washington World War II Memorial. Each Vet has a sponsor who accompanies them on their trip to Washington D.C. They are met by dignitaries and escorted to the memorial site. Many of these men have never spoken about what they endured and witnessed, not even to their own families. The memorial and the camaraderie of their fellow vets perhaps allows them the opportunity to talk about their experiences and shed tears for those brothers in combat who didn’t return. They are given the star treatment, and are welcomed with crowds at the airports along with a water cannon salute, as they taxi to the gate and arrive home. Was my dad still alive, he asked? No, he passed away in 2006, I found myself saying through watery eyes. I had always wanted to take my dad to his World War II Memorial, but never got the chance.
The Honor Flight Chicago organization has flown 45 flights from 2008-2012. They have flown 3,806 World War II Veterans to their War Memorial. 89 is the average age of our Vets on the waiting list. There are an estimated 21,000 WWII Vets, who have not had their honor flight in the Chicago area. There are 8 scheduled flights for 2013. Each flight costs $35,000 dollars. This group hopes to continue these flights for veterans of all wars through the years.
As we closed our conversation, we both had tears in our eyes. I knew then that this was a very special group and he was a very special man. A veteran, himself of a war, where soldiers returning home did not get a hero’s welcome. Here he was giving these veterans, a hero’s welcome and memories they will never forget. As we celebrate our Nation’s birth and our freedoms, let us remember our aging WWII Veterans by donating to Honor Flight Chicago. And remember the sacrifices of all veterans by paying it forward to the next generation of war veterans. They are all heroes.
To volunteer, donate or fill out application for a flight, go to: http://www.honorflightchicago.org/