As a Korean War veteran who served in the New York Army National Guard’s 27th Division from 1953 to 1955, Jack Okesson felt a duty to protect his family and his community. That’s why it was so moving when those people recognized his sacrifice as part of Honor Flight Chicago’s 77th flight to Washington, D.C., on May 10.
“I thought it’d been a wonderful day,” he said.
Before the flight, he spoke with retired Army Col. Wallace Alcorn, a Korean War veteran who took his Honor Flight in 2016. Okesson said the colonel gave few details of the day’s events but did “exude an enthusiasm that was infectious.”
In the company of fellow veterans, Okesson visited D.C.’s war memorials and museums, but two events really stood out. The first was Mail Call, an Honor Flight Chicago tradition where family, friends and members of the community write thank-you letters to the veterans. Among his letters were two from his 8-year-old twin grandsons.
“When I was in the service, I received no mail — my family never wrote,” Okesson said. “To get that package and see it stuffed with all sorts of correspondence was overwhelming. I am not a weeper, but I wept then.”
The other stand-out experience of the day was the return to Midway Airport.
As Honor Flight Chicago’s jet landed, Okesson said he was looking forward to unwinding and returning home. As the aircraft approached the gate, two Chicago Fire Department engines provided a water cannon salute as a contingent of police officers and firefighters stood at attention on either side of the jet. It was a fitting end, he thought, to a moving day.
“As we walked up the ramp, I heard a great deal of noise up ahead and knew that it was not yet over,” Okesson said. “I was not at all ready for what was to come.”
A cadet from Great Lakes Naval Training Station escorted Okesson through the greeting lines, where hundreds of cheering family, friends, neighbors and other supporters welcomed the veterans home.
“I went into sensory overload,” he said. “To be greeted like I was was probably the most memorable and intense experience of my life. The people greeted me as if I was a hero, which I have never believed about myself.”