Longtime Riverside resident Lew Heine described Oct. 5 as “one of the favorite days of my life.” It was the day the 86-year-old Heine and approximately 107 men and two women, all veterans, took off from Midway Airport bound for Washington, D.C., as part of Honor Flight Chicago. 

Honor Flight, a volunteer program, raises money so they can fly the veterans to visit war memorials in Washington. The veterans are the stars of the flights, and the volunteers do their best to pay tribute to the vets and honor them for serving.

Heine’s like the rest of the veterans was assigned an escort who would be with him for the day. They enjoyed coffee and doughnuts as they traveled to visit memorials in our nation’s capital honoring the military. 

Their tour included the following memorials: the Air Force, Korean War, Vietnam War and the World War II memorial, which is the most recently completed of the group. A stop at the Lincoln Memorial also was included. They also visited a large building resembling an airplane hangar that housed historical planes, including the famed Enola Gay, which dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945.

The whirlwind day was not without other highlights. Three quarters of the way into the return trip, it was time for “mail call’ in which each vet received mail that had been sent prior to the trip by friends and relatives. Heine received 45 pieces of mail. He also talked about how they were entertained by a vocal trio resembling the Andrews Sisters, who sang songs of the war time era.

Arriving back at Midway Airport that night, the vets were greeted by a crowd of people, including Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner. Heine’s was the 75th Honor Flight, the first taking place in 2008.

Heine, who served in the Navy Reserves until being called to be a combat corpsman in the Marines from 1950-52 in Korea. Heine was wounded in battle and received a Purple Heart. He was honored this year at the Riverside Memorial Day ceremony. According to his son, Mike, of Riverside, the family did not even know about his dad’s wartime experiences.

Honoring our veterans, particularly people like Lou Heine has been a long time coming and well deserved. To Lew Heine, we salute you and thank you for your service and all you have done for us and our country.