By way of introduction, my name is Benjamin Kelly, a veteran and resident of Morris, Ill. At age 91, I am a widower, living a lonely life at home after 64 years of marriage that began June 9, 1945, two months before V-J Day in World War II. I have a story to share with you.
I was a sergeant in the U.S. Army Air Corps Communications Division for 39 months in WWII. I served stateside as a Night Fighter Radar Instructor at Boca Raton Field for over three years, enabling washed out flying cadets to receive a commission of Flight Officer or 2nd Lieutenant.
Because my vision couldn’t meet requirements, I was denied combat in the European Theater. However, some of my class are now represented by a gold star on the Freedom Wall at the WWII Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
I often wear my WWII Veteran baseball cap I received as a gift. One Sunday morning in the fall of 2011, a church lady approached me inquiring if I knew of the WWII Veterans Memorial in D.C.? Negative. Didn’t even know one existed.
Would I like to see it at no cost to me? That was a “no brainer.”
Deb and a veteran relative had just returned from the tour. She had noticed my cap, and she explained all the details, helped me with my application, and I got on the list of Honor Flight Chicago.
In March 2012, I received confirmation from HFC to be at Midway Airport at 4:30 a.m. on Wednesday, May 23, where a guardian would be waiting, with a wheelchair, to process me through to our flight on Southwest to Dulles.
On our flight were 91 veterans representing every branch of the military, plus guardians from all over the Chicago area and surrounding towns. On departure and arrival at both Midway and Dulles, throngs of people greeted, cheered, and thanked us. I never shook so many hands in my life.
On arrival at Dulles, we boarded huge tour buses, assisted by guardians, direct to the WWII Veterans Memorial, adjacent to the Washington Monument on the mall, with the Lincoln Memorial some distance away.
I was more than impressed. I was overwhelmed by its enormity, detail and inclusiveness.
The most sobering detail for me was the Freedom Wall. It contains 4,000 gold stars, with each single star representing 100 individuals who sacrificed their lives. Of the 16 million military in WWII, over 400,000 are represented by these stars.
What if I had gone into combat? Might I be in one of those stars.
The memorial doesn’t just honor the fallen, it honors all WWII veterans who participated.
Our tour included other memorials, plus the Air and Space Museum in Chantilly (Va.), which was of special interest to me.
Every living veteran ought to see this memorial, and they can, at no cost. I didn’t spend a penny.
Honor Flight Chicago is a non-profit organization that does only one thing, flies WWII veterans only to this memorial and others in D.C. at no cost. Other freebies are included in the flight.
HFC doesn’t advertise; communication is by word of mouth.
I urge every qualified veteran who is interested in this tour to call (773) 227-8387 or contact honorflightchicago.org for information or application.
Memorial Day has special meaning for veterans who served in any war or police action in defense of our country. We deeply honor those who sacrificed their lives.
We are a fraternal front in which some survive, some sacrifice, but we’re all heroes. The fallen deserve honor and recognition on Memorial or Decoration Day. ———
Local veteran Benjamin Kelly has agreed to be an occasional contributor to the Morris Daily Herald with his thoughts, recollections and reactions to events during his 91 years of life.