Saying ‘thank you’ 7,000 times

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Since we established Honor Flight Chicago a decade ago, I’ve had hundreds, probably thousands of people ask me what I enjoy most about my job.

To be honest, I can’t answer that one.

Obviously the seven Wednesdays out of the year that we fly World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington, D.C. are among the most exciting and enjoyable experiences for me, but just as fun are the phone calls I get to make the day after each flight. I love being able to call dozens of the senior war heroes who flew the day before to hear about their experiences.

This past Thursday was particularly meaningful for me and the entire Honor Flight Chicago team. That is because the veterans who I spoke with, the ones who flew on our 78th Honor Flight the day before, helped our organization surpass 7,000 veterans honored.

Think about that for a second.

7,000 veterans!

I still can’t believe it. When we first created Honor Flight Chicago, we didn’t have a goal or ideal number of veterans we wanted to recognize. We just wanted to try and honor as many of these heroes as we could. But 7,000? I wouldn’t have imagined we’d ever be able to fly so many veterans.

The veterans who I spoke with on Thursday were just as kind as the thousands who were honored before them. They spoke of the caring Guardians who escorted them throughout the day. They spoke of the generosity and kindness of the volunteers who went out of the way to make their day so special.

Most importantly, they spoke about what the trip meant to them. Some spoke about gaining closure. Some spoke about having their lives re-energized. A 97-year-old WWII veteran even asked when he would get pictures from the day so he could post them on Facebook (true story!).

The veteran who really stood out to me was an 88-year-old Korean War veteran named Tom Mulhall. Here is what Tom said when I spoke with him:

“I remember getting home from the Korean War. I took a train from Camp Carson, Colo., and then I took a cab home, dragging my duffel bag. Nobody greeted me but my cab driver. He said he would not charge me for the fare. He was a nice man.”

It was at this point that Tom began to cry.

“When we landed at Midway (yesterday), well, you really made up for it. I am not a kid, but I sure cried and cried. Every veteran should have the chance to be recognized like that.”

Tom, we couldn’t agree more. That’s what our goal is. We want to give our veterans the thanks and honor they deserve.

We’ve given that recognition to 7,007 veterans.

We have no plans on stopping any time soon.


Mary PettinatoCEO, CO-Founder and Janitor
Mary Pettinato is the proud daughter of a WWII veteran. Recognized as one of Chicago Tribune’s 2015 Remarkable Women, Mary’s volunteer efforts have ranged from serving those who have sacrificed much to defend our country, to lending her insights and energy to a number of volunteer boards in the Chicago community. Mary was recently appointed to the board of the national Honor Flight Network.