Local Honor Flights use donations to get veterans to D.C. for reflection, honor

From Quincy to Chicago to Springfield and beyond, there are six Honor Flight regional hubs in Illinois. (Photo courtesy: WJBC/File)

By Illinois Radio Network

SPRINGFIED – Nonprofit groups across Illinois used Giving Tuesday to highlight the work they do, including Honor Flight groups that fly military veterans to Washington D.C. for reflection and honor.

Steven Wheeler, the veteran coordinator for Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, which covers more than 30 counties in central Illinois, said the three-day trips to D.C. the nonprofit organizes are free for the veterans. The group relies on donations to pay for the expenses.

“It costs a lot,” Wheeler said. “Leasing aircraft, renting tour buses takes a lot of money and we’ll take 180 to 181 people out on each trip.”

Land of Lincoln Honor Flight has facilitated trips for more than 4,000 veterans. Wheeler said there are Honor Flight organizations all across the state, but there is a waiting list.

“World War II and Korean [War] vets right now, there’s no wait for them because of the age concerns,” Wheeler said. “And then the Vietnam [War] vets, there’s probably 650 to 700 Vietnam vets on the wait list right now.”

There are six Honor Flight regional hubs in Illinois, including Quincy, Chicago and Springfield.

Sam Montalbano, a 90-year-old who served in the Korean War, has been on an Honor Flight. He said it can spark a mix of emotions.

“Well it’s kind of sad in a way, when you see they’ve done a remarkable job with all those memorials, so if you let yourself think about things it’s pretty sad, but it’s enjoyable,” he said.

Montalbano said some veterans are skeptical about whether they qualify for the flights.

“They are,” Montalbano said. “They just don’t think they deserve it. Or some of them were veterans state-side or something, but they’re still veterans, everybody, as long as they’ve worn the uniform, they should go.”

For information on Honor Flights, visit HonorFlight.org

Illinois Radio Network can be reached at News@WJBC.com. 

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