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updated: 4/2/2012 6:16 PM

Veterans prepare for Honor Flight trip to Washington, chance to see World War II Memorial

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  • Lake Zurich Navy veteran Robert Wallace talks about serving on the battleship USS North Carolina during World War II.

       Lake Zurich Navy veteran Robert Wallace talks about serving on the battleship USS North Carolina during World War II.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

  • Lake Zurich veteran Robert Wallace served in the Navy on the battleship USS North Carolina during World War II.

      Lake Zurich veteran Robert Wallace served in the Navy on the battleship USS North Carolina during World War II.
    Photo courtesy of Robert Wallace

  • Video: Honor flight recipient

 
By Mitchell Armentrout
marmentrout@dailyherald.com

Robert Wallace has experienced a lot in his 88 years.

He has heard the throttling crash of a torpedo into the side of his battleship in the Pacific, the USS North Carolina. He has seen the desperation of men on other ships jumping overboard after being bombed. He has felt the spray of ocean surf from a kamikaze fighter jet slamming into the water less than 50 feet away.

On Wednesday, the Lake Zurich Navy veteran will add another event to that list, when he joins 94 other Chicago-area World War II veterans on a trip to the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.

The trip is hosted by Honor Flight Chicago, part of a national network of nonprofit organizations that have flown more than 80,000 veterans to the memorial for free since 2005. The Chicago chapter, which started in 2008, will bring their 3,000th veteran on the trip.

"On this day, they're the rock stars, they're the heroes," said Honor Flight Chicago President Mary Pettinato.

Since learning in early February that he'd be on board, Wallace has eagerly anticipated the trip.

"I can't wait to go," he said. "I've heard it's a huge monument. I'm sure it's very moving."

The World War II Memorial was dedicated in 2004 to the 16 million who served in the military during the war, including more than 400,000 who died, as well as those who supported the effort in the U.S.

"I'm just very grateful. It means a lot that they're willing to do this," Wallace said

The veterans' jam-packed day will start around 4:30 a.m., when they board a plane at Midway Airport. In Washington, the group will visit the World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War and Lincoln memorials, as well as the National Air and Space Museum. They'll land in Chicago around 9 p.m.

George Kaiser of Lake Forest, who flew 28 missions in the European theater as a radar navigator in the Air Force, doesn't mind the exhausting schedule.

"I think we're all going to be too excited to feel tired," Kaiser said.

Honor Flight Chicago relies on donations and the efforts of more than 700 volunteers. Each flight costs around $55,000, according to Pettinato.

"It's the least we can do," she said. "This is their memorial."

The flight Wednesday marks the group's first of 10 planned trips for 2012. An estimated 22,000 World War II veterans live in and around Chicago; more than 1,000 are on the waiting list to make the journey.

Army veteran Robert Dillon of Grayslake has wanted to make the trip for several years.

"A lot of men made the ultimate sacrifice, and they'll be on my mind," Dillon said.

Other Lake County veterans boarding the Honor Flight are: Richard Kinneman of Lake Barrington, Leonard Adler of Highland Park, Joseph Nemanich of Fox Lake, Robert Roelle of Mundelein, and Jean Scheve of Zion.

Wallace said he was glad to be able to make the trip while in good health. About 850 World War II veterans die every day, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

"It's great to know that people still care about something you did 70 years ago," he said. "I really appreciate it."

Veterans are encouraged to take part in an Honor Flight by applying online at www.honorflightchicago.org, or by calling (773) 227-8387.

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