Harold Weir didn't want to miss a single moment of his Nov. 2 Honor Flight excursion, a daylong trip to Washington, D.C., for veterans to visit their memorials and be honored for their service.
Though he had visited Arlington National Cemetery several times before, Weir declined his daughter's offer to take a break and rest on the bus. Instead, the 92-year-old World War II Army veteran pensively watched the ceremonial Changing of the Guard, paying his own respects.
Together with 97 other veterans who made the flight, caretakers and numerous volunteers, Weir spent the day touring the Air and Space Museum, the Vietnam and Korean War memorials, Lincoln Memorial and other historical landmarks. When the group stopped at the National World War II Memorial, Donna Weir saw her dad grow quiet.
"They played the national anthem and taps, and he saluted and reflected a lot," she said. "He thought it was lovely and couldn't imagine how there could be another war given how nice and respectful everyone was."
Weir remained composed until the plane ride home, when he started reading his "Mail Call" letters from loved ones and sang patriotic songs with the other vets. Back home at Midway Airport, 3,000 people -- military, bagpipers, the Patriot Guard and families -- greeted the plane with thunderous applause and cheering.
"It was one of those sweet moments," Donna Weir said. "He called it one of the greatest days of his life."
The very next night, Sgt. Weir himself would go to his final resting place, dying in his sleep at his Hinsdale home.
"He was a gentle Irish soul, and this trip helped bring him peace," said Donna, who lives in Bartlett. "It was a great way for him to go."
Weir, a longtime resident of Elmhurst, nearly didn't go on the Honor Flight -- his daughters practically had to force his signature on the Honor Flight Chicago application.
In 1944, Weir was shot nine times, operated on without anesthesia by a German surgeon and then held as a prisoner of war for several months until the European war ended the next year.
He never again experienced a sound night of sleep, his daughter says, and those weren't memories he necessarily wanted to relive.
But he slowly grew excited about the prospect of joining the nearly 3,000 veterans who've made the Honor Flight trip. The local nonprofit organization was founded in February 2008 to honor former soldiers -- especially those who served in World War II -- with a day of honor, remembrance and celebration from a proud and grateful nation.
"We're trying everything in our power to fly these World War II veterans out before it's too late," Honor Flight Chicago President Mary Pettinato said. "The importance of their day cannot be underscored."
Weir is survived by his wife of 61 years, Catherine, three daughters, three grandchildren, a great-grandson and many nieces and nephews.
Donna Weir hopes other World War II veterans can receive the same sense of closure through Honor Flight. Pettinato said the waiting list is down from two years to less than one, but more veterans and funding are needed.
"Some are pensive, some are jubilant, some are a combination of both," Pettinato said. "It's clear Mr. Weir got what he needed out of it."
For more information, call (773) 227-VETS or visit honorflightchicago.org.