Winthrop Harbor World War II veteran Robert L. Arivett had the thrilling experience and honor of taking off from Midway Airport on May 6 for a well-deserved Honor Flight bound for Washington D.C. The one-day trip with Honor Flight Chicago was the welcome home celebration of a lifetime, long overdue, which most vets didn't get at the time.
Before boarding, the 79 vets, averaging age 90, were treated to a bit of nostalgia by being serenaded by the Legacy Girls who do a fantastic job imitating the Andrews Sisters, the popular singers during the WWII era.
The Honor Flight Chicago plane, which included 71 helpers as escorts and nurses, took off under an arch of water generated by fire hoses on each side of the plane. They landed about an hour and a half later at Dulles Airport to more of the same, deplaned and were taken to five waiting coach buses that were escorted by Park Police to be paraded through the city with sirens blaring and people cheering them for their service.
The Washington D.C. day couldn't have been more perfect with 85 degrees, and cherry blossoms in full bloom casting their sweet fragrance through the air.
Now feeling like rock stars, the veterans were taken to the Air Force Memorial where a drill team performed for them before going on to the WWII Memorial for a ceremony.
Their third stop was the Lincoln, Korean and Vietnam Memorials. Next stop: the Udvar Hazy Air and Space Museum, where the Enola Gay is housed, which is the plane that flew the very first mission targeting Hiroshima with an atomic bomb.
Arriving back at Chicago Midway Airport about 8 p.m., Arivet estimates there were between 1,500 to 2,000 people waiting to greet them. "You couldn't get through Midway Airport. People were lined up on both sides of an aisle we walked through to shake hands and say thank you. It makes you feel good. We got out of there about 10 and it was midnight when I got home."
Arivett entered the service in July 1943. He served in the anti-aircraft for a year before the unit got broken up and he was placed in infantry. It was a big experience for a kid that had been born and raised in 'Monkey's Eyebrow,' Kentucky and never been away from home. Eventually he was sent to Marseille, France and walked with his troops, but on the front line across France.
He remembers well the morning of Dec. 7, 1944. Right at the French-German border, a piece of shrapnel pierced through his side under his heart. He fell to the ground where a medic wrapped the wound but he had to lay for two days before help could arrive to carry him by stretcher to a field hospital. A couple days later, he was operated on and the shrapnel removed.
He remained in the hospital for several weeks, spending his 21st birthday hospitalized. When released, the war was over, so he was put in the Air Force, from which he was eventually discharged in April 1946-three months short of three years. After his discharge, he worked as a civilian airplane mechanic but also was sent back to France to guard an air base.
Arivett says there wasn't any one special thing that was a highlight of the Honor Flight Chicago; "It was all fabulous."
Honor Flight Chicago
Honor Flight Chicago is described as the Welcome Home Celebration of a Lifetime. It is is free for all World War II veterans. Although some veterans may choose to have a family member with them, many veterans prefer to do the trip on their own. Honor Flight Chicago will provide all the manpower needed for this very special day of honor.
Honor Flight Chicago has flown 5,502 WWII veterans to date to see their Memorial, yet there are approximately 17,000 WWII veterans who have not yet had their day of honor. They need your help to identify and sign up our remaining WWII veterans…time is running out.
Honor Flights take place from April through September in order to stay warm and happy. There will be a total seven flights in 2015; those remaining are on June 3, June 30, July 29, Sept. 2 and Sept 30. All flights will be filled with WWII veterans, medical personnel and guardians.
Spread the word. Tell your friends, family and neighbors about Honor Flight Chicago. Contact Honor Flight Chicago if you need veteran applications, business cards or flyers.
For more information, call 773-227-8387 or go to honorflightchicago.org or (VETS) for an application now. (There are many pictures available on this Web site.)