Don Arseneau has been wanting to fly with Honor Flight Chicago for years.
Arseneau, a Navy Plane Captain and Parachute Rigger during the Korean War, first applied to fly with Honor Flight Chicago in 2014. He was scheduled to fly in 2016, but he was forced to cancel because of shoulder surgery. In 2017, he was supposed to receive his day of honor on two different occasions, but again, he had to postpone, first because he was sick and later because his wife Ollie was ill.
This past March, Arseneau found out he would be flying April 11 on Honor Flight Chicago’s first flight of the year. He mentally prepared himself for weeks. He’d heard how emotional the day can be for veterans, so he wanted to be ready.
Then the unthinkable happened.
Ollie was once again sick. She died on Friday, April 6. On her deathbed, Ollie had a message for her husband of 63 years: You’re going on that flight Wednesday.
Those were the last words she said to him.
And that is exactly what he did.
Don Arseneau received his well-overdue day of honor Wednesday as he flew to Washington, D.C. with 98 other senior war heroes. Don and Ollie’s only son Tom accompanied his father on the trip as his Guardian.
“It was really great that you were able to get my son on this flight with me,” Don Arseneau said. “I think I would have been very lonely and sad missing my wife. I told Tom three or four times how special it was that he was with me on this trip and that we were honoring Ollie’s wishes.”
Don Arseneau was born in the small town of Beaverville, Ill. (pop. 368) on June 13, 1931. He enlisted in 1950 and was assigned to the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. The “Rosie” was a Midway-class fleet aircraft carrier, one of the largest ships in the Navy. In terms of crew size, it was more than three times larger than his hometown of Sheldon.
As a Plane Captain, Arseneau was responsible for making sure his plane was prepared to fly each day. That meant he had to ensure the plane was properly maintained, equipped, armed, fueled and clean.
He later became a Parachute Rigger, which meant he had to be able to make, service, repair and fold a variety of regulation parachutes. He also learned how to service, maintain and repair life rafts, life jackets, oxygen-breathing gear, air-sea rescue equipment, and all of the pilots’ flight clothing and gear.
As a Parachute Rigger, Arseneau was reassigned to the USS Midway, then the largest warship in the world. He and his boss were responsible for maintaining all of the systems and equipment for 20 sophisticated fighter jets. Learn more about Don’s service during the Korean War.
Arseneau first met Ollie while he was on leave and back in Sheldon. She lived in town and worked for the telephone company in nearby Watseka. Arseneau’s enlistment expired in July 1954, and he and Ollie were married seven months later.
“I am extremely proud of my father that he honored my mother’s last wishes,” Tom Arseneau said. “I know she is looking down on us both right now and she is smiling proudly.”