Veterans should be honored

Originally published November 12, 2010

My grandpa is one of the 16 million men who served in WWII. He spent several years overseas, risking his life for this country.

He was also one of the million soldiers who were never truly honored or thanked upon returning home from war. Honor Flight Chicago is one organization attempting to reverse that.

Founded in 2008, Honor Flight Chicago has made it their mission to honor all WWII veterans for all they have done. To do so, the organization is thanking about 100 veterans at a time, rewarding them with a day of honor.

This day of honor is nothing like an assembly at a local high school or a community parade, it is a day trip to our nation’s capital. Honor Flight Chicago takes veterans to Washington D.C. for one day to visit the WWII memoria and multiple museum exhibits at no expense.

My grandpa was lucky enough to be able to take this trip on Oct. 26 and he said it was an experience like none other.

On the day of the flight, veterans arrived at Midway airport at 5 a.m. and do not return until nearly 8 p.m. A day trip like this would be enough to exhaust me at age 19 – I can’t imagine how overwhelmed my 86-year-old grandpa must had been.

On the flight back home, veterans received a packet of letters. These letters are collected from family, friends, neighbors and even strangers, sending their appreciation. But the warm-hearted letters cannot even begin to prepare veterans for their next surprise.

Once the veterans step off the plane, they receive the welcome they never received 66 years ago. The veterans are each individually escorted through the airport from the terminal to the baggage claim, passing hundreds of supporters.

Unfortunately I was unable to welcome my grandpa back from the flight, but he said it was an amazing experience and made so many veterans happy and proud to have served this country.

My grandpa has never been one to talk about his war experiences, and the few times he has opened up I knew he was holding back.

Even though I have expressed my curiosity to him, he is still hesitant to talk because he thinks no one wants to listen or really cares.

Because many soldiers came home feeling unappreciated and discouraged, I think there should be more programs like Honor Flight Chicago. These men are the reason we’re living the lives we are now, and without them our country would not be the way it is.

Since the program began in 2008 they have made 25 flights to Washington D.C., and 1,500 veterans are on the waiting list to take their flight.

Honor Flight Chicago is not only giving veterans the thank-you they deserve, but is starting a trend that will hopefully create more patriotism and thankfulness toward dedicated soldiers.