Lisle veteran hopes for state's first all-female 'honor flight'

Veteran Virginia "Ginny" Narsete has an ambitious goal: help organize the first all-female veteran "honor flight" from Illinois to the nation's capital.

Back in her day, it was rare for women to meet others like them, said Narsete, 67, of Lisle, who enlisted in 1973 in the Air Force. She served five years of active service stateside and 25 years in public affairs for the Air Force Reserves. She retired as a master sergeant.

"Less than 2% of all service members were females when I was in the service. We were mostly clerks, typists and medical (personnel)," Narsete said. "A lot of these females might have had one or two others that we served with as far back as World War II and the Korean War."

"(The flight) is a bonding experience, to get us all back together again."

Narsete retired in May as chief of staff for the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, where she served for less than a year. She also taught photography at Columbia College Chicago and retired as community involvement coordinator and program manager for the Environmental Protection Agency in Chicago, she said.

The idea for the all-female flight came after a discussion at the Naperville chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, where she is an active member, Narsete said. The chapter discussed working with Honor Flight Chicago, which opened its first flight to Vietnam-era veterans June 5, she said.

"Then I thought, 'An all-female flight would be great,'" she said. "There are 60,000 female veterans in the state of Illinois. I'm sure we can get 100 (for an honor flight)."

Veteran Ginny Narsete of Lisle hopes to help organize the first all-female honor flight from Illinois. Here is her portrait taken in 1976 at Langley Air Force Base. Courtesy of Ginny narsete

All-female honor flights are rare but not unheard of. The first one took off in 2015 thanks to Honor Flight Tri-State, which covers southern Ohio, northern Kentucky and southeast Indiana. More followed suit from Ohio, Utah and Rhode Island.

Narsete said her vision is for the flight from Illinois to happen in March, which is women's history month, and include a visit to the Vietnam Women's Memorial in Washington.

"It's a fantastic idea," said Stephen Curda, executive director of Illinois Joining Forces, a statewide public-private network of organizations that serve veterans and military members. He commended Narsete for her accomplishments and desire to serve, calling her "a superstar."

"For way too long women veterans just have not been very well-respected," he said. "Even if you go back to World War II and the Korean War, and up to a certain point in the Vietnam War, women were not even allowed to join as full-fledged military; they were auxiliary. Even though they sacrificed, they were not given that full recognition."

There are eight Honor Flight regional hubs in Illinois, including Chicago, North Chicago and Fox River Grove.

"We started communications with a few of the chapters but haven't gotten a solid commitment yet. Hopefully we'll get that commitment," Curda said, adding the ideal partnership would be with the Chicago chapter.

Doug Meffley, Honor Flight Chicago's director of communications, said he plans to discuss the idea with the board next week. "It's really, really early in the process," he said. "We (Ginny and I) literally just talked last week."

Narsete said she also spoke with contacts at the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs and the Vietnam Women's Memorial. "They all want to work on this together," she said.

Narsete also is a member and past president of Chicago Council of the Navy League of the United States and was among the 2018 recipients of the founder's award from the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. She was among 200 veterans honored during the state's bicentennial in December.

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