It is all about honoring the veterans and saying "Thank You" for their service and sacrifice more than four decades ago. A group of WWII veterans are on a special journey today, from the College of Lake County in Grayslake to Washington D.C., thanks to Honor Flight Chicago.
Along the way, the veterans will be celebrated and warmly thanked, said Mark Pennington of Geneva, a high school chemistry teacher at Hinsdale South. He is one of the volunteer Guardians escorting the veterans on their journey.
"We will have a celebration as they leave," Pennington said. "Everywhere when they stop, there are people there. It is a day of constant celebration in their honor."
Irving Kannett, 90, of Highland Park, served in the Army from 1942 to 1946. He became a SSG (Staff Sergeant) in the 96th Infantry Division. He said he was eager to go on the Honor Flight journey.
"It's an honor and I'm looking forward to seeing the monuments at Washington D.C.," Kannett said. "My last trip to Washington D.C. was 30 years ago and the memorials were not up then."
He is making the journey today with his son, Jeffrey Kannett, 58. "I am looking forward to spending the day with my son," he said.
Kannett admitted that he has not shared many of his experiences from the war, similar to many veterans from that era.
"I very seldom talk about it," he said. "To talk about it with someone who has never witnessed it makes it hard for them to comprehend. I'm just not that type of person."
The Chicago native is grateful for the Honor Flight experience.
"It will be a long day but it is a tremendous honor," he said. "I think it is a great effort by all the volunteers and all the people who donate to make this happen."
Honor Flight Chicago (www.honorflightchicago.org) is supported by a virtual army of volunteers. The volunteers pay for their own travel expenses and assist the veterans on their journey.
"The primary focus in Washington D.C. is the WWII memorial," Pennington said. "The veterans can walk around and reflect on all of the things in their lives that have impacted them."
They also can visit the Vietnam Memorial, Korean Memorial or the Lincoln Memorial.
"I am excited to see the monuments and to be around the other old guys," said WWII Veteran Melvin Ehlers of Beach Park. "We're all getting pretty old."
Ehlers, who turns 86 in about a month, served in the Marines from 1944 to 1946 with Able Company, 1st Battalion, 3rd Division, 3rd Marines.
He said he appreciates all the volunteers who make the Honor Flights possible.
"I think they are doing a very good job," Ehlers said.
Volunteers like Pennington say they are happy to give back to veterans who have given so much already.
"I am a veteran of Vietnam era and my dad was in the U.S. Army towards end of WWII, so as a veteran, those things they have done are meaningful to me," Pennington said.
He said the trip could be an emotional one.
"Everybody deals with the journey differently," Pennington said. "All of them find some sense of closure. Tom Brokaw named them the "Greatest Generation" ever. That generation went into a great unknown and did a tremendous feat for all of us. You see people feeling a lot of joy, some are melancholy...the full gamut of emotion."
He added that each Honor Flight is all about the veterans.
"We are doing this for them," Pennington said. "There are never enough people who can do this. We are losing a 1,000 men and women a day from that era. We want every veteran, no matter what their medical status, to be thanked for their service."