When Frank Lutz Jr. and his fellow World War II veterans took part in an Honor Flight last week, not even a government shutdown was going to stop them from seeing their memorial.
“They took the barricades down and threw them up on the lawn,” said Frank, an 86-year-old Navy veteran. “The park rangers just watched and didn’t do a thing. I don’t think they would have arrested us all in wheelchairs.
“That was our memorial, it didn’t belong to them,” he continued.
Frank, of Morris, was one of 91 veterans on the Oct. 2 Honor Flight Chicago that flew from Midway Airport to Washington, D.C. Frank served in the Navy from 1943-45, repairing submarines.
Honor Flight takes WWII veterans to see the World War II memorial that was built in 2004, CEO and co-founder Mary Pettinato said. Flights are done from April to October. The last trip this year is scheduled for Oct. 30.
“It’s not for financial reasons,” she said. “It’s a chance to be honored with their fellow veterans.”
When the memorial was constructed, most of the veterans were in their 80s and it is difficult for them to take such a big trip, Pettinato said. Honor Flight makes the trip easy and smooth for them. It includes their flight, a guardian for each veteran, wheelchairs, transportation, meals and entertainment. There also are doctors and nurses on the flight as a precaution.
While in D.C., they also visit other sites, all at no cost to them.
Frank’s guardian on the flight was another veteran and his son-in-law, Charles Sparrow, who served in the Vietnam War.
On the first day of the government shut down, Oct. 1, an honor flight trip went through the barricades anyway and then Pettinato said they were told not to come Oct. 2.
The veterans took a vote to go anyway.
“They said, ‘We stormed the beaches of Normandy, survived typhoons in the Pacific. Do you think we are going to not take a chance to see the memorial built for us?’ They said, ‘We will go no matter what, they can arrest us,’ ” Pettinato said.
When they got there, she said the park rangers honored their right to assembly and took the high road.
More than a week since the trip, Frank and his wife Beverly said they are still on cloud nine from the experience. Beverly did not attend, but has been living through Frank’s stories.
And she is the reason her husband received the honor: Beverly read about another veteran who had taken the Honor Flight.
“He gave a beautiful description with a number and I thought I’m going to call for my husband,” she said.
Frank left his house at 3 a.m. for Midway Airport and got back at about midnight.
“It was great, marvelous,” he said. “It was just the best thing I’ve done.”
When the veterans landed in D.C. and when they landed back home, they were greeted by military men and women and emergency responders saluting them.
“When we got off the plane, there were rows and rows of sailors in white uniforms and rows and rows of marines on the other side and air force, army and the coast guard,” Frank said.
At the airports and the memorial, there were thousands of people thanking the veterans and shaking their hands. On the bus each veteran received a mail call, just like they did when they were in the service. The men and women received mail from government officials, sports teams and people from their hometowns. Included in Frank’s were letters from Saratoga School students.
“It was so organized,” Frank said. “They really took care of us veterans.”