Photo for the Tribune by Charles Osgood
May 31, 2009
They were old and weak in body. Many of them were riding in wheelchairs, others used walkers and a few, like few -- including U.S. Marine Theodore Peters, in Osgood's photo -- managed on their own. But as 79 World War II veterans arrived at Midway Airport on a recent Wednesday night, they were greeted by such an outpouring of emotion and gratitude that you could see the spark of youth in their eyes.
They had had a long day, as part of the latest trip by Honor Flight Chicago. This not-for-profit organization, with outposts in 30 states, funds and organizes trips for WW II veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the World War II memorial. The first flight took place in summer 2008, and they now are scheduled monthly.More than 1,500 people jammed the Midway concourse and the baggage claim area, and it was almost impossible to hear a thing over the shouts and the bagpipes and cheers. Many of these people were the relatives and friends of the veterans, but many others were not: Boy Scout troops, motorcycle clubs, USO volunteers, Chicago cops, military personnel and others interested in celebrating old soldiers.
Two of them we knew. Harold Possley, the 87-year-old father of former Tribune reporter Maurice Possley, was an aviation machinist 3rd Class stationed in the Marshall Islands. He jauntily wore his 66-year-old Navy cap and was with his son Tom, who had accompanied him on the trip. This is what he had to say: "When I was at the memorial, I saw the star with the name of my brother, and I was reminded in an overpowering way of how he gave his life for this country. The reception at Midway ... I didn't think I was an emotional person, but I had tears in my eyes from the moment I left the plane. The people shaking my hand, the band, the pipers -- everyone who was there who made me feel special. It is hard to explain the feeling. I was so honored just to be on this flight. They made me feel like this flight was just for me, even though the plane was packed with veterans. That day will live with me until the day I die."
Ellen Miller's father, George J. Miller, was the oldest (94) and highest ranking (a lieutenant colonel) person on the flight, the second oldest to ever make the journey. Though he is eminently capable of speaking for himself -- he is working on his memoirs -- we asked his daughter what she thought after accompanying him on the trip.
"The day in Washington was cold and rainy, but there were no complaints from the vets. They were the same soldiers they were 60 years earlier: proud and honorable. When we landed at Midway, the size of the greeting was a surprise to all of them. The look on my dad's face was unlike any look I have ever seen before. I could see him fighting back the tears. Good soldiers don't cry, but on this special night, even good soldiers cried and so did everybody else."