On eve of D-Day anniversary, local WW II vets take Honor Flight
By Nick Swedberg Correspondent June 5, 2014 9:20PM
U.S. Army Air Corpsman Joseph Scariano, a part-time resident of Mokena, receives a welcome home kiss from his granddaughter, Janet Stroobosscher, of Orland Park, for the Honor Flight Chicago welcome home at Midway Airport, Wednesday, June 4, 2014, in Chicago. | Gary Middendorf/for Sun-Times Media
More information about Honor Flight Chicago can be found at honorflightchicago.org. To refer a veteran to the organization, call (773) 227-8387.
Updated: July 7, 2014 6:34AM
The beginning of the end for the Nazi invasion of Europe launched 70 years ago Friday.
World War II veterans are being remembered around the world on the anniversary of D-Day, the massive Allied seaborne invasion of the shores of France on June 6, 1944.
On Wednesday, a group of Chicago-area veterans from World War II took a different journey.
More than ninety World War II veterans flew to Washington, D.C., for the day as part of Honor Flight Chicago, a nonprofit organization that pays tribute by bringing veterans to the nation’s capital for the day.
Around 2,000 people lined a route through Midway Airport’s baggage claim Wednesday night, waving flags and thanking the returning veterans for this service.
“If I could do this two days in a row, I think I would be ready for heaven,” said Glenn Ward, a veteran on Wednesday’s flight who lives in a Hazel Crest retirement community.
Honor Flight Chicago began flying veterans to Washington in June 2008. The flight this week is the 56th for the organization, which has helped nearly 5,000 Chicago-area veterans to see the World War II and other memorials in the nation’s capital.
Thousands more World War II veterans are in the Chicago area and Honor Flight Chicago has a small army of volunteers searching for them, said Mary Pettinato, co-founder and CEO of the organization.
“We’re ready to fly them,” she said. “We’re trying to find them.”
Time is a factor in finding participants for the flights, Pettinato said. Their Operation Locate a Veteran seeks out referrals by people who know of a veteran who might be interested.
Four veterans, including Ward, 90, have become buddies while living at Waterford Estates in Hazel Crest and were on Wednesday’s flight. Bob Nelson, 90 served in the Army in the South Pacific. Sven Johnson, 92, served at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, in the Coast Guard. Henry Wick, 94, was a member of an anti-tank company that was active in Europe.
Veterans who sign up are flown round-trip and are provided with a motor coach in D.C. for free. Escorts accompany them as they tour war memorials and monuments.
Even with all the nonprofit promises, some veterans are reluctant to sign up and need a little push.
“There are a lot of guys who are hesitant about it,” said Rich Parker, who entered the Army toward the end of World War II when he was 15 years old. He now is a member of Orland American Legion Memorial Post 111.
“The ones that could make it, should make it,” he said.
Joe Scariano, an Air Force veteran of the South Pacific Theater, knew about the trip for years and was encouraged to go by a friend and fellow veteran.
Walking through the crowds of people cheering after they exited the plane was an amazing experience, said the veteran who will be living with family in Mokena this summer.
“It should be like this everyday, 24 hours a day,” Scariano said. “It should be all love. That’s what God wants us to do.”
For some, the remembrance doesn’t end after a single day trip.
Earl McGarry took his Honor Flight in 2011 and, was so impacted by the trip, he shows up each year for the return celebration of other veteran’s flights.
“They came out for me,” said McGarry, a 92-year-old veteran who lives in Plainfield with one of his daughters. “Every year, I come out for them.”