Flight days always create iconic moments for me. Sometimes they are emotional, like a veteran being surprised by his family at our Welcome Home celebration. And sometimes they are subtler, but still just as powerful.

This past Wednesday featured one of those understated moments.

As our 103 senior war heroes took in the Korean War Memorial, I watched as a soccer team filled with 14-year-old boys goofed around close by. The kids were wrestling with each other and, in general, acting like 14-year-olds tend to act. But then something happened.

One of the boys watched as one of our veterans was greeted by a handful of strangers. One by one, the strangers walked up to the veteran, shook his hand and thanked him for his service. A few of the other teenagers saw the boy staring, so they looked as well. Suddenly, the goofing around stopped. And as I stood watching, three of the soccer players left their teammates and walked up to the same veteran. And one-by-one, they shook his hand and said “Thank you.”

It was such an inspiring moment, and one the boys hopefully will remember for a long time. I know I will.

That was just one of hundreds of great memories from Wednesday’s flight, which was the 84th for Honor Flight Chicago. Keep reading to meet some of the veterans who flew with us and find out what iconic moments they had. And as always, thank you for your continued support.

Serving with pride,

Mary Pettinato
CEO, Co-Founder, and Janitor

“You know I am going to be very honest. I am 89 and I thought this day was going to be a bit corny.  But I had one of the best days ever!  Everywhere we went, the people killed you with kindness.  And at the end, there were thousands of people to greet us in Chicago … You know, there are not enough adjectives to describe the day and not enough words to tell you how amazing it was.”

— David Byster, Korean War veteran, Air Corps/Force, Age 89

“The day was tremendous!  And it just got bigger and bigger!  What topped it off was Mail Call.  And then my family surprised me at the airport.  And then when we were almost home, we stopped at the local firehouse and I was told to get in the firetruck. I was driven the last part of the way to my house in a firetruck and when I got to the house, my neighbors, more family and friends were there to celebrate with me!  What a beautiful day!”

— Floyd Ermer, Korean War veteran, Navy, Age 86

“Oh Lord have mercy!  I enjoyed every moment of that trip. My favorite part was the Marine Corps at the Lincoln Memorial. My guardian, Nancy, was really fun and funny. Everybody thought we had known each other for years including me! Thank you to all those volunteers!”

— Calvin Farmer, Jr., Korean War veteran, Army, Age 85

“Oh my God, my day was so beautiful. It was really something. I never seen anything like that. We had a huge greeting at Dulles and I was overwhelmed but then when we got back to Chicago there was wall to wall people out there celebrating. And then at the end of the line, my family was there. That was a highlight of my whole day.”

— Chas Griffea, Korean War veteran, Army, Age 90

“My day was greater than great.  I wish I could tell you how I really feel but I can’t yet put it in words. Yesterday was far more than I had expected and because I had friends who flew with Honor Flight Chicago, I had expected a lot.  I felt like I was running for office…I had people rushing to be around me and two young ladies that we were with me all day and even four women who wanted my mustache! And the coming home with the bagpipers and the band and thousands of people was breathtaking!”

— Ralph Mueller, Korean War veteran, Air Corps, Age 86

“I am still recuperating from Wednesday. My son came with me on the trip and we couldn’t get over that from the time we got to the airport in the morning to the time that I saw my family at the very end of the line at Midway, all the people who were giving me thanks for my service. It couldn’t have been a better day for me. You know this organization is love. Love comes in so many ways.”

— Gordon Vaundry, WWII veteran, Navy, Age 94