When Riverside resident Mary Mathis, a nurse at Hines Hospital, appeared as guest speaker at a recent Riverside Township Lions Club meeting, she opened the hearts and minds of those in attendance. 

As a volunteer for Honor Flight Chicago, she related stories of the efforts of that organization to honor those who have served their country through their program, which flies veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the war memorials there.

Founded by four Chicago women whose desire it was to honor and thank veterans who gave a part of their lives for our country, the program seeks veterans to fly for the day to Washington D.C. for a day of remembrance and honor. 

The cost of flying one vet is $600, but no cost is incurred by the veterans. Currently there are 22,000 veterans of World War II in the Chicago area and more than 7,000 have taken part in the program so far. Volunteers are seeking to locate more of the veterans so they may sign them up for the Washington trip. While currently seeking veterans from World War II, they are also accepting the names of those who served in Korea and Vietnam for future flights.

Many of those taking the flights are accompanied by family members, friends or volunteers from the program. Mathis says there are 700 volunteers serving in some capacity to maintain the program, including educating school children. It is not unusual, she says, for people to be on hand at Midway Airport to watch as one of the flights takes off or there for the return flight just to lend their support as a way of saying thanks. 

Mathis, who can get emotional when talking about the program, says people can help by seeking out veterans, writing letters to veterans or being on hand to help the day of the flight. 

Present at the meeting was Lions Club member and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Don Farnham, who attended an Honor Flight last year and emphasized what a wonderful experience it had been.

The next Honor Flight is scheduled for June 4. To learn more about Honor Flight Chicago go to their website at www.honorflight.org. Mathis also will be present at some upcoming Riverside events, where she will be available to give more information. 

With Memorial Day coming up, what better way to say thank you to a veteran.

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