WWII veterans honored with proper welcome home celebration

Jim McClure, former Oak Park Village President, among the veterans

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By Ashley Lisenby

Digital Editor

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

Contact:
Email: ashley@oakpark.com Twitter: @aadlisenby

Reader Comments

3 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 3:34 PM

Great story, and kudos to the guards in DC who moved the barriers to allow the Vets to the Memorial.

Jill Wagner from Forest Park  

Posted: October 4th, 2013 10:55 AM

Frank Schaben also from Oak Park was one of the Veteran's who participated in he Honor Flight and returned on Wednesday. It was an incredible experience to welcome these Veteran's back home.

Dan Haley from Wednesday Journal Wednesday Journal Employee

Posted: October 3rd, 2013 5:31 PM

Jim McClure did double duty in the Greatest Generation category -- first the WWII version and then two decades later as part of Oak Park's greatest generation of leadership in passing Open Housing and fostering a community where racial integration was welcomed. A really wonderful man.

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