For World War II veteran Harold Parkes, a trip to see the new World War II memorial in Washington, D.C., was beyond description.
“It was just hard to describe,” Parkes said. “It was spectacular. To see it in reality is altogether amazing.”
Of course, having an organization that flies veterans to the nation’s capital to see the memorials for free makes things even better.
“Our goal is to give every World War II veteran, who wants to go to D.C., and is able, to get to see the [World War II] memorial,” said Ray Wiedle, the chairman of the Land of Lincoln branch of the Honor Flight. “It’s just a way of saying thank you to the veterans.”
The local Land of Lincoln Honor Flight branch, the organization that takes veterans to war memorials in Washington, D.C., for one day, was formed and recognized by the national Honor Flight organization in March of 2009. The local branch was able to take 99 veterans to Washington, D.C., in its first year. Since then, the organization has managed to take more than 100 more World War II veterans to see the World War II Memorial as well as the Korea and Vietnam War memorials. The Land of Lincoln Honor Flight hopes to take as many more veterans as funding allows, however the organization does not allow the veterans to pay for anything. For every two veterans there is a guardian, who assists them and pays for their own ticket. The group relies on donations to pay for tickets for the veterans they take, which cost about $475 per person.
Wiedle originally got involved in the Honor Flight program after he moved from Chatham to St. Anne, Mo. His real estate broker was a member of the program and encouraged Wiedle to join as a guardian. When he was on one of the flights, Wiedle found that there was no branch available for veterans from central Illinois. Soon, Wiedle, from his new home in Missouri, worked with others to form the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight Branch, gathering donations and sending veterans to Washington, D.C.
“I feel like I was called to do it,” Wiedle said.
Woody Shadid, a field artillery veteran who finished World War II as a staff sergeant, will be attending the next trip to Washington, D.C., on June 22 with other veterans from Springfield and the surrounding area. His nephew will be accompanying him as his guardian.
“I think it’s great,” Shadid said. “It’ll be a very emotional moment.”
Shadid still vividly remembers his experiences in the war, but he was extremely happy to come home.
“We came back Christmas Day, 1945,” Shadid said. “It was snowing when we landed. There was a young couple welcoming everybody, standing out in the snow. That really meant something.”
The appreciation for WW II veterans back then extends to today. “You can’t imagine the crowd that was at the capital [Washington, D.C.],” Parkes said. “It was amazing how many of them wanted to stop and take your picture or take a picture with us.”
Parkes’ group was also able to view the changing of the guard at Arlington cemetery and viewed the Korea and Vietnam War memorials, but he was truly impressed by the enthusiasm and respect people gave them in Washington, D.C.
“You felt humbled to be there,” Parkes said. “The crowd in Springfield was welcoming you whether they knew you or not.”
The Land of Lincoln Honor Flight is funded entirely by donations from businesses and organizations, with many groups holding fundraisers so that the veterans don’t have to pay anything for the trip. For Ray Wiedle, the work is worth the sacrifice to give something back to the veterans.
“It’s such a rewarding feeling to talk to the veterans and their spouses. Tom Brokaw called them the greatest generation and the more I talk to the veterans the more I agree with Tom Brokaw,” Wiedle said. “They truly are the greatest generation.”
Donations to the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight can be made by mail to Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, P.O. Box 403, Chatham, Ill. 62629. Donations can also be made at any of the Marine Bank branches in Springfield, Chatham or Champaign. More information is available at landoflincolnhonorflights.com.
Contact Jackson Adams at email@example.com.