Pro­gram to in­clude Viet­nam War vets

Honor Flight Chicago gives free trips to Wash­ing­ton

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - CHICAGOLAND - By Anna Spo­erre as­po­erre@chicagotri­bune.com Twit­ter @an­naspo­erre

Be­gin­ning next year, Chicago-area Viet­nam War vet­er­ans will be able to take part in a pro­gram that gives vet­er­ans free trips to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to see memo­ri­als built in their honor.

Honor Flight Chicago an­nounced Wed­nes­day that it will be­gin of­fer­ing seats on its flights to Viet­nam War vet­er­ans along­side World War II and Korean War vet­er­ans.

“They went off to war in one of our na­tion’s most dif­fi­cult times with a di­vided na­tion,” the non­profit’s pres­i­dent, John Ptak, said Wed­nes­day. “And when they re­turned, they cer­tainly didn’t hear the words ‘thank you.’”

Many Chicago-area Viet­nam War vet­er­ans have vol­un­teered with the other honor flights, of­ten gath­er­ing at Mid­way Air­port to wel­come the old vet­er­ans home, Ptak said. Now, “after pa­tiently wait­ing for their day of honor,” it’s their turn.

Viet­nam War-era vet­er­ans who served be­tween Nov. 1, 1955, and May 15, 1975, are el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply to take part in one of the six honor flights each year, ac­cord­ing to the or­ga­ni­za­tion’s web­site.

About 1,350 of the 107,500 Viet­nam War-era vet­er­ans liv­ing in the Chicago area have been on a wait­ing list with Honor

“It’s not only a day of hear­ing ‘thank you,’ but a day of re­flec­tion. It’s been de­scribed as part of the heal­ing process by those who’ve flown with us.” — John Ptak, pres­i­dent of Honor Flight Chicago

Flight Chicago, Ptak said. Some of those men and women will be among the 100 to board the first flight of the sea­son in April.

Since the an­nounce­ment to in­clude Viet­nam War vet­er­ans was made, the phones have been “ring­ing off the hook,” he said.

Dur­ing the day­long trip to Wash­ing­ton, vet­er­ans visit the war memo­ri­als as­so­ci­ated with their time in the ser­vice, as well as the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial and the Smith­so­nian Na­tional Air and Space Mu­seum’s Ud­var-Hazy Cen­ter, ac­cord­ing to the non­profit’s web­site. When they re­turn to Mid­way Air­port, they’re greeted by fam­ily mem­bers, friends and com­mu­nity mem­bers, Ptak said.

“It’s not only a day of hear­ing ‘thank you,’ but a day of re­flec­tion,” he said. “It’s been de­scribed as part of the heal­ing process by those who’ve flown with us.”

Honor Flight Chicago, which was es­tab­lished in 2008 and is the largest hub in the Honor Flight net­work, added Korean War vet­er­ans to its flights in 2016.

“I couldn’t be more ex­cited to fi­nally shine a pos­i­tive light on the sac­ri­fices of our Viet­nam vet­er­ans and fi­nally give them a day of grat­i­tude and re­flec­tion that’s been too long de­nied to them,” Ptak said.

SHOLTEN SINGER/AP

Honor Flight Chicago gives vet­er­ans free trips to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to see memo­ri­als built in their honor, like the Viet­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mo­rial.

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