Government shutdown couldn’t shut out vets
“I was the first wave to storm the Beaches of Normandy,” so nothing is going to stop me now!” said one World War II veteran as he boarded a flight to Washington D.C. on Oct. 2.
With the news of the government shutdown happening a day earlier, the 91 World War II vets refused to cancel their trip and give up what they had waited nearly a lifetime to see. The shutdown resulted in the temporary closure of the National World War Two Memorial.
Some in wheelchairs or with walkers or canes, the vets boarded their flight, along with ten emergency room physicians and numerous nurses from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill., who serve as volunteers for Honor Flight Chicago (HFC).
HFC is a non-profit organization that transports veterans to Washington D.C. to visit their national memorial, in addition to other monuments and museums for a day at no cost to them. HFC flights are staffed with volunteer medical professionals who act as guardians for the veterans, whose average age is 90-years-old.
Cheryl Hickey, Christ Medical Center emergency department manager, was one of the volunteers on the flight. She provided medical expertise and care during her second HFC trip.
“My role as a guardian includes ensuring veterans take their medicines, stay well hydrated and have a safe and positive experience,” she says. “Their loved ones entrust us to take care of them and the veterans trust us to be there for them in any way we can.”
After a smooth touchdown, the vets immediately proceeded to the Memorial, only to find it barricaded because of the partial government shutdown.
In front of dozens of onlookers, including government workers of the National Park Service, the veterans evoked their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble and removed the barriers. The group went on to see the Iwo Jima Memorial, Newseum and the Arlington National Cemetery Changing of the Guard.
HFC was founded by Mary E. Pettinato, in honor of her dad. Pettinato said she asked her father if he was on his deathbed, what is the one thing you wish you could have done?
He responded, ‘I wish I had gone to see my Memorial, the Memorial that was built in my honor and in honor of the guys who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country,’” says Pettinato.
Pettinato honored that wish and took her father to see his memorial and, while there, they saw Honor Flight hubs from around the country.
“When we left that day, I knew my mission would be to get my dad and other moms and dads the chance to see their memorials!” she says.
In honor of her father, Pettinato co-founded Honor Flight Chicago in 2008. Now, in its fifth year, the organization has made it a goal to reach an estimated 25,000 World War II vets living in the Chicagoland area. To date, HFC has flown more than 4,500 vets to the nation’s capitol.
“This is our way of thanking the men and women who answered our nation’s call, especially at times of our greatest need,” Pettinato says. “At HFC, this is our way of saying, ‘thanks,’ and paying tribute to these heroes by bringing them to Washington, D.C. for a day of honor and remembrance.”
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