Special Segment: Honor Flight

May 29, 2011 10:00:00 PM PDT
It is an experience described by some as the greatest of their lives -- an emotionally charged tribute to heroes of World War II.

Honor Flight Chicago is a volunteer and donation-driven group with a time-sensitive mission: provide as many World War II vets as possible a chance to actually touch the monument built in their honor.

Even for tough guys, tears are allowed.

They are the old breed, facing the challenges of age, but still full of life and memories.

Navy flier Frankie DeMuynck was in Tokyo Bay at the war's end. Frenchie Maurais survived the Pacific. Three of the ships he was on were sunk.

The Berg Brothers, Tony, Bob, and Harold, fought in separate Army units in Europe, each brother always thinking about the other two.

"You know who we thought of most was our poor mother who we love very much," said Bob Berg. "She had to write all these letters to us guys."

There were 96 World War II vets flying to Washington that day as part of Honor Flight Chicago.

The welcome they get is unexpected and warmly embraced. They come to see the monument built in their honor.

Their average age is 88. Their day of travel is not easy, but they are drawn to see, feel, and remember.

"Those poor, those poor Marines - I'll tell you, they caught it like I can't believe it. I can't believe what they went through," said veteran Frenchie Maurais.

"I was thinking of a lot of the guys I was with that aren't with us today," said veteran Bert Farber.

For many, this is a chance to say goodbye to buddies lost long ago.

"They're able to see the memorial that was built for them that they thought they had been forgotten," said Honor Flight Chicago CEO Mary Pettinato.

"Puts tears in your eyes. It really does. I thank God that I'm alive," said veteran Gary DeVries.

They are the men and women who won a war, came home, and didn't talk about it much because that was the expected way.

"We just wanted to get the job done - the soonest, fastest we could - and get home again," said Harold Berg.

Three brothers get to share the experience as one, and for them, the monument is also a tribute to their parents.

"They went through a terrific, terrible time for 5 years before we were all back home again, and the monument, I think, is for them as much as for us," said Tony Berg.

On the return flight, another memory. Each of the vets gets cards and letters - many from family. They are overpowering.

"We thank you for your contributions that allow us to live freely," read veteran Larry Berkelhamer. Then, his voice catching - "Oh, boy..."

"I'm in tears. Unbelievable. Wonderful," said veteran Robert Parr.

There is more wonderful. When the vets return to Midway, the terminal is filled with a sea of people cheering.

Lee Kelly remembers his brothers.

"They're all gone, and so I think that I'm here for them," said veteran Lee Kelly.

Brothers in life. Brothers in arms. Welcomed home.

The flight last Wednesday was the 26th for Honor Flight Chicago. Nine more are planned this year.

No one need doubt the power of a thank you. It goes a long way with the old breed.

Honor Flight Chicago website (www.HonorFlightChicago.com)

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