1st Honor Flight in nearly 2 years takes off for Washington DC with 113 heroes on board

CHICAGO (WLS) -- For the first time in nearly two years, veterans and their caregivers gathered at Midway Airport for an Honor Flight, a daylong, all-expenses-paid excursion to Washington to see the war memorials that salute those who fought in America's wars.

A reveille sounded ahead of the 5:15 a.m. flight time for former soldiers who knew the rigor of war.

"Thank God for me being able to be here today," said Curtis Bentley, 98, who told ABC7 reporter emeritus Paul Meinke he was in charge of a mess hall in Okinawa, Japan, at the end of World War II.

"What I hope to see today, well I hope to see things I never seen before," Bentley said. "I have never been to Washington before, and I really enjoy being here with the rest of the people."

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It was the first of four honor flights this year, and on this day, 113 heroes - mostly Vietnam vets, but three from WWII and a group who served in Korea - were excited to take to the skies. Tinley Park resident Bill Buckler also was in Okinawa at the end of the war, facing Japanese soldiers unaware their side had surrendered.

"Yes, so we have to watch what was going on," he said.

Bucklers' daughter said the former GI did not talk much about his experiences until a few years ago. He did reconnaissance in mine-strewn island caves containing enemy soldiers.

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"So when I got there, there were still bodies laying on the ground," he said. "Every time I took a step, I always worried that I would step and go up."

Now the only worry for these veterans is cramming in the most sightseeing possible in the nation's capital on this special day as they remembered their comrades and experiences.

Through donations, Honor Flight pays for the entire experience.
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