George Gebes of Batavia is one of the reasons the organizers of the Honor Flight Network feel a passionate urgency about their volunteer work.
Gebes, a Naval veteran of World War II, is 97. Like many other World War II veterans, he's had to bide his time to see the National World War II memorial.
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But after a yearlong wait, he made it on to Wednesday's Honor Flight out of Chicago's Midway International Airport.
And he was amazed.
"It was a wild day," Gebes said of his trip to Washington, D.C.
The monument was impressive. But he was especially taken by the number of people throughout the trip who cheered the veterans and shook their hands.
"I couldn't imagine where all the people were coming from," Gebes said. "I shook hands with every one of them."
Also on the flight was Gebes' son-in-law, Dick Kalina of Batavia, himself a World War II veteran. Kalina, 83, served in the Navy occupational forces on Saipan in the western Pacific for two years, starting in 1946.
Kalina's wife, Barbara, was the one who applied for the men to take the Honor Flight.
the Honor Flight Network is a national charitable organization that takes veterans of World War II on one-day trips to see the World War II memorial.
It also takes veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars on such trips to see their memorials. Priority is given to World War II veterans because of their age.
About 11 percent of U.S. World War II servicemen and women were still alive as of December 2011, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Gebes was married, with two children, when he enlisted in the Navy in 1943. He spent his career taking care of engines and gun turrets on Landing Ship Tank-813 in the Pacific Theater. He recalled being on the LST from the day it launched in Evansville, Ind., down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, to the Gulf of Mexico and the Panama Canal. Gebes was injured lifting heavy equipment on the LST, necessitating hernia surgery.
Kalina, too, enlisted in the Navy, at age 17, because he didn't want to end up in the Army. "I ended up on land for two years," he pointed out.
On Saipan, Kalina was put to work installing offices in Quonset huts that were storing supplies for U.S. ships traveling to Japan. He got that gig, in part, because of his drafting classes at Batavia High School.
One of his prized possessions is a gift from a Japanese prisoner of war kept on the island. The painting, of a woman surrounded by cherry blossoms, contains a poem about cherry blossoms blooming at home, but not in the South Seas. Kalina empathized with how homesick the prisoners were.
Gebes and Kalina returned to Batavia after the war, and met when Gebes was helping to organize the Overseas Post 1197, Veterans of Foreign Wars.
"He (Kalina) was a friend of Mom and Dad's and part of the family, and then he was family," Barbara Kalina said. They married when she was 21 and Kalina 31.
The Kalinas and Gebes had nothing but praise for Honor Flight, from the efficient way it handled arrangements, the one-on-one escorts the veterans had, to the color guards and bagpipers present when the veterans returned. "Honor Flight is quite the wonderful, wonderful organization," Barbara Kalina said.