Call goes out for 1st all-female veterans Honor Flight in Illinois
Illinois' first Honor Flight exclusively for senior female veterans will become a reality later this year thanks to the efforts of an enterprising Lisle woman.
Ginny Narsete, an Air Force veteran and former chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, is the chairwoman of the newly launched Operation HerStory, which on Oct. 7 will take 100 women veterans on a flight to Washington, D.C. The effort was unveiled Tuesday in a ceremony at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library in downtown Chicago.
More than 140 regional hubs across the country offer Honor Flights for veterans, but there has been a distinct lack of participation from women, even accounting for the fact that most veterans are men, said Narsete, who began working on the initiative last summer.
"The reason they are not on the flights is, they're like my mom: they'll relinquish their seat for a man," Narsete said. "The second thing is a lot of them didn't think they were veterans. The reason they didn't know they were veterans is they didn't get the same accolades as a man did."
Elisabeth Pennix, vice chairwoman of Operation HerStory, said the trip to the nation's capital will be "a unique day of camaraderie" for the female veterans. "We want to fly those women for a long overdue day of visibility and recognition for their military service and vital contributions to our successes," she said.
Operation HerStory partnered with Illinois Joint Forces, Honor Flight Chicago and others for the initiative.
Honor Flight Chicago has flown more than 8,700 veterans from Chicago to Washington, D.C., since 2008, but only 200 of them were women, said Honor Flight Chicago President John Ptak. Until last year, the flights were only open to veterans of World War II and the Korean War; the first flight to include Vietnam War veterans was in June.
"We couldn't be prouder or more excited" to partner with Operation HerStory, Ptak said. The flight is open to women who served in any branch of the military from 1940 to 1975, whether stateside or abroad. An estimated 7,500 women fit the criteria in Illinois and about 40 already have applied, organizers said.
There have been a handful of all-female Honor Flights across the country after the first one in 2015 organized by Honor Flight Tri-State, which covers southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana.
Korean War veteran Amelia Cunningham of Indian Head Park, who was on an Honor Flight from Chicago in April, exhorted her fellow senior female veterans to join in. "Ladies, take your honor. You deserve it. Accept it and enjoy it, because it's fantastic."
The one-day trip will leave from Midway Airport and will feature visits to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Women's Memorial, the Women in Military Service For America Memorial and more.
Female veterans who want to take part in the flight, or anyone who wants to nominate a female veteran, can submit applications at operationherstory.org or by calling (513) 813-7808 to request an application.
The flight will cost about $145,000 and fundraising is well on its way thanks to donors, including the Pritzker Military Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, the Daughters of the American Revolution, and several individuals and service organizations. Anyone interested in contributing can visit operationherstory.org/pages/online-donation.