From the Storyteller
By Steve Lord firstname.lastname@example.org May 25, 2012 6:56PM
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:28AM
There are an estimated 22,000 World War II veterans in the Chicago area. And it’s also estimated that in three to five years, most of them will be gone.
What has been called the Greatest Generation is dying. I can relate to that personally. Four years ago, I lost my father, a World War II vet who seemed to be there one moment and gone in an instant. While he lived a fine life and to the fine age of 86, there were things I wanted to help him experience that he didn’t get to do.
One of those was to go on an Honor Flight to see the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight has gotten a lot of press since its creation in 2007. And for anyone who has not experienced what happens at the welcome home for these veterans after they spend a day at the memorial, let me tell you, it’s a sight to behold.
I saw one firsthand this past week. Hundreds and hundreds of people jammed Midway Airport in Chicago to welcome the one-time warriors back. The event included a brass band, bagpipe group, flag gauntlet, Naval honor guard, units from other active military groups, beauty queens, and family and friends of the veterans carrying their own flags, signs and photos.
I was there to see George Gebes and his son-in-law, Dick Kalina, both World War II vets from Batavia. I also was there to see Barb Kalina, who is in the rare situation of having a husband and father who are both World War II vets. Dick clearly was awed by the welcome at the airport. “I was shocked,” he said about all the hoopla. “It’s a day I’ll never forget.”
Honor Flight is facing an unusual crisis these days. There has always been a waiting list to get on the flights. But that list is dwindling, like the number of vets. According to Honor Flight, the country is losing 1,000 WWII vets a day.
Honor Flight has taken 35 flights between 2008 and 2011, carrying 2,987 vets to see the memorial. It has 10 flights scheduled for this year.
But Shari Gillespie, an Honor Flight media volunteer, said the challenge now is getting the word out to veterans who rarely use the Internet and never use social media. “That’s where we depend on the families, the younger people,” she said.
As I watched the veterans this past week, I thought about the many I knew growing up, and the many more I have interviewed as a reporter. There were the Iwo Jima veterans such as Dick Young of Oswego, and a bevy of others I talked to on the 50th anniversary of that battle. There was Bob Mitchler of Oswego, who was an Honor Flight guardian and a longtime advocate for veterans. Both Young and Mitchler died this past year.
There was Art Richoz of Elgin, who lost an eye from a war injury in 1945 but persevered his whole life with an artificial one, and also was a veterans’ advocate until his death. There was Clark Arter of Aurora, who told me he promised God if he got him home from the war, he would attend church every week. And he did until his death.
There was Al Rubin of Naperville, whom I knew growing up but had never told me about his involvement during the Battle of the Bulge in Europe until the 50th anniversary.
And there was my father, John Lord — he spent his childhood in Elgin; raised a family in Naperville — who was in battlefield intelligence, and took the march with the Third Army under Gen. George Patton to relieve the soldiers at Bastogne.
I will think of all of them this Memorial Day. I imagine you, too, know people like these old vets, and will do the same. The ones who made it back will tell you it’s a day for those who never returned.
But I see it as a day to remember anyone who was willing to put their life on the line.
- Steve Lord