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Honor Flight Chicago Sends Veterans to Washington

Founder of Honor Flight Chicago, Mary Pettinato, works to send a flight of veterans to Washington, D.C. every three weeks.

Honor Flight Chicago helps veterans to fly at no cost to visit the war memorials in Washington that commemorate those who served in the military.

Mary Pettinato, president of Honor Flight Chicago, founded the Chicago branch after taking her father, a World War II veteran, on a trip to Washington, D.C. to see the World War II memorial.

She found that the trip was difficult due to her father’s oxygen tank.  Upon arriving home she promised her father that she would found a Chicago branch of the nationwide Honor Flight organization.

Pettinato, with colleagues Jeanmarie Kapp, Nancy Kapp and Suzanne Stanits founded the Chicago branch of the organization in February of 2008 and since then the organization has flown almost 3,000 Chicago-area World War II veterans to view their memorial in Washington, D.C.

“It was just super.  I need to call the Pope and have the whole organization canonized.  You’re all angels in my life,” Mike Tosto, an Honor Flight participant told the group. Honor Flight Chicago provided Chicagotalks with some of the reactions.

Veterans apply for the trip through Honor Flight Chicago and are selected based on age, with World War II veterans getting the highest priority.  They are then placed on a waiting list that can be as long as a year-and-a-half. Currently applicants can expect to wait about eight months.

Veterans are invited by Honor Flight Chicago ambassador volunteers who collect medical information which then goes to a team of nurses that clear the veterans, most of which are over the age of 80, for travel.

With the help of Honor Flight Chicago volunteers, veterans are given a “goody bag” on the flight that consists letters, candy, a commemorative pin, and photo books featuring Washington’s memorials, as well as one featuring exclusively the World War II Memorial.

Luke Mroz, an intern with Honor Flight Chicago, said the trip’s would not be possible without the help of volunteers.

“There are a lot of volunteers behind the scenes,” Mroz said from the group’s office in Lincoln Park. “They put aside their daily activities, jobs, kids and free time to help.”

Honor Flight Chicago sends one flight every three weeks, for 33 weeks of the year.

A typical trip will fly out of Midway Airport with 100 veterans on the plane, along with nurses, paramedics and flight leaders there to assist the veterans along the way.  Upon landing in Washington, D.C. the veterans each meet one on one with a guardian that will escort them through their day at the nation’s capitol.

The cost is about $500 per person. Honor Flight Chicago raises money through private donations. They do not get any money from the government, according to its website.

The next Honor Flight Chicago will leave on Nov. 2 and will feature active duty guardians.  Current armed forces members will each be assigned to an Honor Flight veteran and will escort them on their trip through Washington, D.C.

Once there, the veterans visit Arlington Cemetery as well as the World War II Memorial.  They then take part in a group ceremony at the World War II Memorial before heading on to the Vietnam Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

It is often an emotional event for the veterans, not only visiting the war memorials but the homecoming they receive upon landing.

“Never in my life have I seen anything like it. [It was] way, way, way beyond expectations,” participant Bill Mutert said.  “All these people there early and late, the bagpipers and the firefighters.  I feel all those lost [in the war] up in heaven seeing it with me right now.”

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