Large crowds, people whizzing by with luggage, the occasionally crying child are all pretty typical sights at an airport. A band playing songs of jubilee, however, is an unusual encounter near baggage claim.
The band and a crowd of more than 2,000, some holding balloons and signs decked out with welcome messages and American flags, met at Midway Airport on Wednesday night to cheer on War World II veterans returning from a trip to see the WWII memorial in Washington D.C., sponsored by non-profit group Chicago Honor Flight.
"They never got a welcome home," said Chicago Honor Flight volunteer of four years and Oak Park resident Connie Henderson-Damon. "Like my Dad. When he got back from the war, he got on the train in California and took the train to rural Kansas, got off the train and that was it."
Wednesday's flight was one of eight flights that left Chicago this year. Each flight cost the non-profit $55,000, money that comes mostly from fundraisers, said Henderson-Damon.
The 92 veterans, including two women, who went on the Honor Flight did not know they would receive such a warm welcome.
"They are so unassuming," said Henderson-Damon, "They just say 'I did what I needed to do.'"
Former Oak Park Village President Jim McClure, 93, was one of the veterans on board yesterday's flight. Standing among the crowd ready to greet him were 17 Boy Scouts from Troop 16, sponsored by First United Church of Oak Park, the same troop McClure belonged to in the 1930s, said leader Terry Dutton.
In spite of the government shutdown that began Tuesday, veterans were allowed to see the memorial erected in their honor.
McClure wasn't the only longtime Oak Parker to take the flight to Washington D.C. and back last week. Joe Massura also was on hand. Massura fought in North Africa and then landed in southern France.
"We walked right in," he recalled. "Can you believe that? Hitler was busy elsewhere."
Massura was moved by their visit to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier because "it represented all those who didn't make it back home."
And speaking of coming back home, he found landing at Midway the most moving part of all.
"There must have been over a thousand people lined up to shake our hands," he said. "It was unbelievable."
Contributions by Ken Trainor