Local vets honored with trip to D.C.
BY DAN MORAN firstname.lastname@example.org September 13, 2013 2:30PM
Mundelein resident Harry Fontana (right), a Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War, sits with fellow veterans and caretakers during a send-off ceremony Friday, Sept. 13, for Lake County Honor Flight participants. | Dan Moran/Sun-Times Media
Updated: October 15, 2013 7:28AM
Former Army Sgt. Ashley Jones had some advice for her fellow veterans as they prepared to start their journey Friday, Sept. 13, to see the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
“Lean on one another when needed,” she said. “We are brothers and sisters in arms and understand the emotions that will inevitably be brought up by the sights you’re about to take in.”
The six veterans — two each from World War II, Korea and Vietnam — were selected to participate in the inaugural trip hosted by Lake County Illinois Honor Flight, which opened earlier this year as one of eight hubs in the state chartered by the non-profit, Ohio-based Honor Flight Network.
The three-day trip had the group flying out of Milwaukee’s Mitchell International Airport on Friday, spending Saturday visiting the memorial and other sites in the nation’s capital, and returning on Sunday.
Sponsored by the Foss Park District, Waukegan Township and the Exchange Club of North Chicago, which founded the hub, the trip began with a send-off party at Veterans Memorial Park on Sheridan Road.
Exchange Club president Paula Carballido told the crowd that the flight will have a seventh participant in spirit: World War II Navy veteran Frank Wortham, who was scheduled to take the trip but died Sept. 4.
Carballido reminded the group that Wortham championed the effort to make Veterans Memorial Park a reality, going door-to-door to raise funds and raising awareness that eventually landed a federal grant.
“It was difficult for our guardians and veterans, most of whom know him, to decide to still go, since his funeral is (the) same day as their memorial trip,” Carballido said. “Although Mr. Wortham will not be on that flight physically, (the) Exchange Club is taking a U.S. Flag in his honor and placing it at the memorial wall for all to see.
“Mr. Wortham found a way to be the life and spirit of today’s group,” she added, “as he managed to defy every understanding of the impossible and found it possible to be in two places at one time. We’ll be celebrating his life and his legacy here in Illinois and in Washington, D.C.”
The veterans taking Wortham’s flag to the memorial’s Illinois pillar are Steve Aoyagi (Air Force, Vietnam); Edgar Douglas (Navy, World War II); Harry Fontana (Marine Corps, Korea); Bernard Hermsen (Air Force, World War II); Theodore Hudson (Marine Corps, Korea); and William Smith Sr. (Navy, Vietnam).
Fontana lives in Mundelein and Hudson is a North Chicago native who lives in Zion. Both served in the First Battalion Seventh Marines.
The first leg of the trip was provided by a new Ford F-550 bus that was delivered to Waukegan Township this week.
“This is a blessing for Waukegan Township,” said Supervisor Patricia Jones, noting that her father was an Army veteran. Two township trustees — the Rev. Percy Johnson and Chuck Williams — also served in the military.
“We just picked this bus up from the manufacturer on Tuesday,” Jones added. “What better place to initiate the first riders than to take the United States veterans (to the airport)? We’re just grateful for the opportunity.”
Lake County Honor Flight has scheduled its second trip for April, with plans to host additional flights in June and September 2014. Six veterans have been selected for the spring trip, and another six might be added if funding can be secured from donors.
Just before the bus left with an escort from the Enchanted Rydaz Motorcycle Club, which includes Desert Storm veterans, Mayor Leon Rockingham called for the occasion to become a regular occurrence.
“It is an honor to see these veterans who are here to make the trip,” Rockingham said. “It is a privilege just to be a part of this, and this is something we hope to continue for years and years.”