My father was a World War II veteran. He was 53 when I was born, and we were clearly from very different generations. As for me, I served 20 years as a Cyber Warfare Officer for the U.S. Air Force. I served two tours in Iraq before I retired this past April.
My father and I never saw eye to eye. That is, until I experienced the same thing he went through more than six decades earlier.
When he returned home from service, he basically felt that he was forgotten. No one made a big deal about the courage he demonstrated or the sacrifices he made. When I returned from my first tour in Iraq, I felt the same thing. No one said anything to me. My family picked me up from the airport, and then I went back to work as if nothing had happened. I wasn’t looking for a parade, but it was hard to not receive any sort of acknowledgement.
That is why I knew my day as a Guardian with Honor Flight Chicago was going to be emotional. Now that I’ve had a few days to recover, I confess that I underestimated how emotional it would be.
I had the pleasure of traveling to Washington, D.C. with 108 World War II and Korean War veterans on July 12 as part of Honor Flight Chicago’s 79th Honor Flight. It was overwhelming to see all the people saying “Thank you for your service” to our veterans. I have walked in these veterans’ shoes, and the words of gratitude are priceless.
Our senior war heroes have spent more than 50 years thinking this nation lived under the blanket of safety without a second thought to the men and women who fought for it. Honor Flight Chicago’s day of honor for these veterans changed that. It was crystal clear to them — and to me — that people appreciated their service and that people haven’t forgotten.
I spent my day assisting Moe Maw, a Korean War veteran who lives in Woodstock, Ill. Moe was not a man of many words, but we hit our stride together quickly. I knew when he’d need a napkin, and I’d just hand him something without him even having to ask for it.
At the end of the day, he told me that when he talks about the day, he’s going to mention me first because I helped make it so special. I was flattered, but I said that would be a mistake. The day was made possible because of all the people who donate time and money to Honor Flight Chicago, not me.
Today, I am a Sayers Senior Project Manager, and I’m proud that my company recently donated $25,000 to Honor Flight Chicago. I had quite a few coworkers who came to the Welcome Home ceremony at Midway Airport. I spoke with everyone from the company afterward, and each said that the ceremony touched them. My boss brought his 18-year-old son to the celebration, and now his son can’t stop talking about the experience.
So, on behalf of Moe Maw and all the other veterans on the flight, please allow me to say thank you to everyone who was so gracious in their praise and thanks. Your words meant the world to us.
“I knew my day as a Guardian was going to be emotional. I confess that I underestimated how emotional it would be.”
Nancy Staiger has volunteered with Honor Flight Chicago for just about as long as the organization has existed.
Staiger was new to Chicago, having recently moved from California, when one of Honor Flight Chicago’s co-founders recommended she come out to Midway to see a Welcome Home celebration.
“I went along, not knowing what on Earth it was going to be,” Staiger said, “and I spent a majority of the time sitting in the corner crying because I was so moved and touched by what it was.”
Staiger immediately volunteered to assist with future Welcome Home celebrations. Before long, she was helping in the mornings at Midway as well. Then she volunteered as a Guardian and started coming in to help with odd projects in Honor Flight Chicago’s Lincoln Park office.
As time went on, Staiger began to fill any gaps she could for Honor Flight Chicago: she trained volunteers, submitted application data on the computer, answered questions posted on the organization’s website, and even organized one of Honor Flight Chicago’s biggest fundraisers, the annual Chicago Police Department vs. FBI Hockey Classic.
Staiger doesn’t have family members who served in World War II or the Korean War, but she recognizes the impact Honor Flight Chicago has on anyone who touches the organization.
“I see the change in the seniors when they come home at the end of that flight,” Staiger said. “They get a new sense of self-worth and rebirth in terms of their futures.”
Staiger has witnessed countless instances where this new energy impacts a veteran’s relationship with their children, grandchildren, community, neighborhood and other veterans.
“Many of them are at a point in their life when they are wondering ‘does it make a difference whether or not I’m still here?’” Staiger said. “And it does. It so does.”
Just as Staiger took on a number of different responsibilities, she stressed there are always opportunities for volunteers to do something they’re interested in.
“You could be the person who is really good at stuffing envelopes, or you could be the person that has an incredible background in grant writing or web development or nursing or medical care,” Staiger said. “There are so many different ways to make a difference, and the feeling of making a difference is huge.”