CHICAGO, October 3, 2012 - More than 86 World War II veterans from the Chicago area spent the early morning hours today at Midway International Airport before boarding a flight to Washington D.C. to visit the WWII Memorial.
Honor Flight Chicago and Southwest Airlines facilitate the trips, with assistance from United Service Organizations (USO) of Illinois volunteers.
While traveling in the nation's capital today, the veterans will experience a day of remembrance and reminiscing for some who have waited more than 60 years to see the WWII Memorial. The veterans will also visit the Iwo Jima, Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam memorials.
The main focus of the trips is on the veterans, but many of the Honor Flight Chicago volunteers who act as guardians for the traveling veterans have their own special reasons for participating.
Army Cpl. Herb Drummond (right) and his Honor Flight Guardian Margie Clare share a dance before the flight
For Read Boeckl, a retired medical sales representative who is Honor Flight Chicago Secretary, a trip in 2008 offered a chance to share the Memorial experience with his father, Paul. "My father, now 86, served as a sergeant in the Army Air Corps. He described it as the best day of his life", Boeckl said. "Now I've been on 42 of these flights. It's a lot of fun and I always meet a great group of men and women."
Erin Flanagan-Kopenec is a volunteer graphic designer for Honor Flight Chicago, as well as a guardian. Today, she was paired with 93-year-old Harry Nelson, an Orland Park native who served as a Staff Sergeant in the Army. "My grandfather was a veteran, but I never got to know much about what he did during the war," said Flanagan-Kopenec. "This experience is amazing because the veterans open up so much during the trip with stories about the war."
Honor Flight Guardian Erin Flanagan-Kopenec and Army Staff Sgt. Harry Nelson
Every veteran doesn't need an individual guardian, as was the case for Bev Dunjill, who served in the Air Force, and is President of the Chicago DODO Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. This was his first trip to the Washington Memorial. "I'm excited," he said. Dunjill also participates in a summer youth program with the Chicago Department of Aviation (CDA) and the Chicago Police Department (CPD).
Tuskugee Airman Bev Dunjill
The morning's departure celebration included performances by the vocal trio "Legacy Girls," who pay tribute to the famous Andrew Sisters, a successful, close harmony singing group of the of the 1930s and 40s. The Legacy Girls perform popular songs of the World War II era and do roll-call for all branches of the Armed Services. Midway Airport Concessions (MAC One) provided breakfast sandwiches, coffee and juice for the veterans before boarding their plane.
Hundreds of family, friends and supporters are expected to welcome the veterans when they return to Midway this evening. In addition, dozens of active duty military personnel; the USO of Illinois; and the Chicago Police Department Pipes and Drums Corps will participate in the arrival festivities.
This is Honor Flight Chicago's ninth flight of the 2012 season, which runs through October 23.