This is the first trip for a venture called Honor Flight Chicago. Its purpose: to honor those vets, to give them a day to remember and to let them know their service to our nation is not forgotten.
They travel at a slower pace these days... Some use wheelchairs and walkers. And the day has been long in coming as well. They are seeing, for the first time, the World War II memorial that stands in their honor.
Morrie Koebele from west suburban Aurora was thinking of those who never came home.
"General Eisenhower was there, giving them a pep talk. When they got the signal to go, they went. There was a lot of… courage in their hearts," he said.
Sixteen million served their country in World War II. 400,000 gave their lives.
On Wednesday, the veterans were greeted by Illinois Congressman Mark Kirk and former senator Bob Dole, who was instrumental in having the memorial built.
"It's just a wonderful, unique, dignified tribute, and it reminds people who visit here that sometimes in your life you're called to give a sacrifice, and that's what these men have done," Dole said.
The sound of the memorial's fountain, the families visiting the site, medals glistening on veterans' caps - regardless of which branch of the service they fought under, it's an emotional day.
"You wanna know something? All together, we won it. That's the main thing," said Frank Outly, Kankakee.
The Illinois group gathered to place a wreath at the memorial as well as a folded American flag with the picture of a fallen hero.
"I can't believe what my eyes are seeing. It's wonderful. I wish it was here when I was young," said Leo Feller, Manteno.
Feller uses a wheelchair. But in that place, at that moment, he said he felt he must stand.
The Honor Flights are provided free to the veterans, paid for by donations. On Wednesday night, those vets will be welcomed back to Chicago as heroes when they arrive at Midway.
For more information:
Honor Flight Chicago
2001 W. Churchill
Chicago, IL 60647