First all-female honor flight in Illinois will take off next week

  • Army veteran Bette Horstman, 99, of Morton Grove, center, will be on the first all-female honor flight from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Here she receives a quilt from Rita Pennington, state coordinator of Quilts of Valor, which gave quilts to participants during a preflight celebration Sept. 26 at Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 in Naperville.

    Army veteran Bette Horstman, 99, of Morton Grove, center, will be on the first all-female honor flight from Illinois to Washington, D.C. Here she receives a quilt from Rita Pennington, state coordinator of Quilts of Valor, which gave quilts to participants during a preflight celebration Sept. 26 at Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 in Naperville. courtesy of Operation HerStory

  • The group Operation HerStory organized Illinois' first all-female honor flight leaving next week for Washington, D.C. Participants were invited to participate in preflight celebrations Sept. 26, pictured here, at Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 in Naperville.

    The group Operation HerStory organized Illinois' first all-female honor flight leaving next week for Washington, D.C. Participants were invited to participate in preflight celebrations Sept. 26, pictured here, at Judd Kendall VFW Post 3873 in Naperville. courtesy of Operation HerStory

 
 
Updated 10/2/2021 3:00 PM

After a yearlong delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Illinois' first honor flight exclusively for female veterans will take off Wednesday for a daylong trip to Washington, D.C.

A total of 93 female veterans ranging in age from 63 to 104 signed up to participate in the event, which will honor their service and for the first time include visits to the Military Women's Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The itinerary also will feature customary visits to the Lincoln Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

The participating veterans all lived in Illinois when they served. They now hail from all over the Chicago area and the state, with some traveling from as far as California and Arkansas.

The special flight, chartered by Southwest Airlines, was made possible by the enterprising work of the group Operation HerStory, co-chaired by Ginny Narsete of Lisle and Elisabeth Pennix of Chicago. The group partnered with Honor Flight Chicago, which handled the logistics, and another 19 or so groups.

"I am overly excited that we can bring these senior military women trailblazers together as sisters again," said Narsete, an Air Force veteran who spearheaded the vision.

Pennix, who serves in the Navy Reserve, said it's all about giving visibility to female veterans and highlighting their contributions.

"Operation HerStory was borne of the idea that women who served in the older generation ... their years of service were not given the visibility, the jobs, the accolades, the awards, the equality that they should have for their critical mission and essential roles in service," she said.

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This will be the 98th flight offered by Honor Flight Chicago, surpassing more than 9,000 veterans altogether.

Each veteran will be assigned a "guardian" and wheelchair for the day. All participants must be vaccinated for COVID-19 and wear face masks indoors.

The flight was originally scheduled to leave Oct. 7, 2020.

"We've been looking forward to this since it was announced, since February 2020, before the whole world shut down," said Doug Meffley, Honor Flight Chicago's director of communications. "To finally get it off the ground is really fulfilling."

Honor flights typically have a disproportionate number of male veterans, even accounting for the fact that most veterans are men.

Women who served as far back as World War II and the Korean War mostly held roles such as clerks, typists and medical personnel. While their contributions were worthy, they often didn't feel like the call for honor flights applied to them, Narsete said.

"A lot of them still believe in that mentality that their role was not as important," Pennix agreed.

Many senior military women were subject to unfair treatment and sometimes harassment. Those issues have improved over time, particularly for the post 9/11 military generation, Pennix added.

Operation HerStory raised about $150,000 to make the flight possible.

That includes three grants -- a "substantial" one from the Pritzker Military Foundation, plus others from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the DuPage Foundation -- along with funding from about 80 donors, including VFW and American Legion chapters and the statewide Daughters of the American Revolution, Narsete said.

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