WWII veterans screen ‘Honor Flight’

S. Barrington hosts documentary to fund trips to Washington, D.C.

Pins from every branch of the military and every war since World War II were up for sale at the screening to raise money for the Honor Flight.
Pins from every branch of the military and every war since World War II were up for sale at the screening to raise money for the Honor Flight.

SOUTH BARRINGTON – Walking into the South Barrington AMC Theater on March 14, the usual displays of movie posters and popcorn had a patriotic touch added to them.

“Honor Flight” had landed in South Barrington.

“Honor Flight” is a film that documents the trip of a lifetime for a group of southeastern Wisconsin World War II veterans.

It follows Honor Flight, a nonprofit organization with footprints around the country.

The goal of Honor Flight the program is to bring aging WWII veterans to the memorial in Washington, D.C., which was built in 2004.

As the U.S. loses between 800 and 1,000 veterans from this war every day, the clock is ticking to make sure as many as possible can see the country’s display of thanks.

Honor Flight volunteers raise money in their communities to fly veterans who are able to Washington, D.C., at no charge to the veterans. During the film, audiences see a group based out of Port Washington, Wis., trying to raise awareness and money to help a group make the trip.

While Barrington does not have its own Honor Flight branch, McHenry Honor Flight brought the cause to town, as it hopes to raise money for a round of trips later this year. McHenry Honor Flight is one of the initiatives that falls under the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois.

Barbara Kelly, one of the group’s directors, said that McHenry Honor Flight is different from most other programs in the Midwest because it takes veterans from the northwest suburbs on a three-day trip to D.C., instead of just going there and back in one very busy day.

Kelly, whose parents both were veterans who have passed away, was a guardian on one of the trips the local Honor Flight group organized last year.

“It was so emotional,” she said. “The only word I can think of is ‘awesome.’ ”

The trip is emotional for the veterans too and, as Kelly explained, it gives them a chance to talk about experiences with fellow veterans who might not have felt comfortable sharing certain memories with their families.

One such situation happened just before the movie started. Warren Sweeney did one semester at Yale before joining the military at age 17 in the 1940s.

He told a story of landing in the English Channel before hiking through France and into Germany.

“We came down along the Rhine, which went north-south there and the trick was to get across that,” Sweeney explained. “Everyone else was so worried about that but we said ‘screw it’ and swam across.”

Joined by his best friend, Tommy Johnson, Sweeney came upon a small village on the other side of the river. When they got to the local restaurant, the locals, who had been living in isolation, asked if they were still fighting World War I, and couldn’t believe another war had begun. Sweeney’s wife, Beverly, said she had never heard that story before.

Sweeney went on the Honor Flight last year, and said the visit was confusing.

“Our friends weren’t there,” he said. He explained he had been looking around, finding it strange that fallen comrades like Tommy Johnson weren’t there to experience this memorial with him. “I still dream about Tommy Johnson,” Sweeney said.

Andy Sciortino, another veteran, went on a trip last September with his daughter, Ro Ostergaard, who works in Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital’s communications department.

Sciortino said his two main jobs back in World War II were guarding prisoners of war in Oahu, and protecting the beached USS Nevada after Pearl Harbor.

He said the trip to D.C. to see his memorial was amazing.

“It was fantastic,” he said. “They could not have done it any better.”

According to Sciortino, the trip was very emotional and thinking about it now still brings back those feelings.

Both men watched the documentary, and afterward said it was wonderful. As the audience returned to the lobby, the table full of fundraising merchandise was swarmed, with DVD copies of the film selling out quickly. The table with volunteer information also became crowded.

Randy Granath, president of the Veterans Network Committee and organizer of the event, said he was pleased with the turnout, though wished he could have filled the last few empty seats. With each ticket’s price of $10, and 173 people there, the event will help fund the group’s planned trip for 2013, when organizers hope to send 16 veterans to Washington, D.C. Granath hopes to continue raising a lot more money and is looking for local sponsors to partner with.

The Veterans Network Committee will hold another screening of “Honor Flight” at the Regal Showplace Theater in Crystal Lake at 7:30 p.m. May 15.

For more information about the organization, visit www.veteransnetworkcommittee.com or www.honorflight.com.

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