Purple Heart vets treated to cruise

CHICAGO More than 600 Purple Heart veterans were treated to a voyage on board the Odyssey, which calls Navy Pier its home port. The annual cruise was started back in 1945 by late columnist Irv Kupcinet as a thank you to our country's veterans.

After an emotional ceremony Thursday morning featuring an Army parachute team and a fly over by the Lima Lima flight team, hundreds of Purple Heart veterans and their family members boarded the Odyssey for a day of food, music and fun out on Lake Michigan.

Every Purple Heart recipient there had a story of bravery.

"I was trying to get my squad leader out of burning building that had gotten bombed. And I got shot twice and burned in a fire trying to drag him out of the building. But unfortunately he burned to death," said Jim McNerney, Vietnam veteran.

One of the celebrities on board was U.S.S. Indianapolis survivor Mike Corila.

"I have a lot of friends that are Purple Heart vets, and I wear the cap all the time, this Indianapolis cap for the 880 guys that died out there," said Corila.

The only one of its kind was started back in 1945 by Chicago legend Irv Kupcinet, who wrote a column in the Sun-Times that ran for decades. The tradition suspended in 1995 because of Kupcinet's growing age. But thanks to his grandson, David, it started up again last year.

"I think the veterans of this state are very fortunate to have a history that includes the Purple Heart cruise and to be able to have it back now," said David Kupcinet.

More than 600 veterans were on the Purple Heart cruise Thursday, many of them served in Vietnam.

"I was there for a year, thank God I came back all in one piece. I have a lot of buddies that stayed over there, so it's hard," said Frank Lopez, Vietnam veteran from Oak Lawn.

Some veterans, including Lopez, fought back tears while remembering fallen friends. The cruise is also an opportunity for veterans to thank veterans.

"It feels great to be among these people, it's an honor, a true honor," said James Cobb, Vietnam veteran.

"I think that's what Kup really loved about the cruise," said David Kupcinet. "Something to get veterans out of the hospital, give them at least one day a year of great care, great good, fun. And if all he could give them was a day a year, he was happy doing that."

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