JOHNSBURG – People were lined up at Midway International Airport on Wednesday night, all waiting for Johnsburg resident DeVere Harmon and the other 90 or so veterans that had just returned from their trip to see the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C.
"They all wanted to be able to shake your hand," Harmon said the next morning, looking a little dazed at the memory. "I have a worn-out hand."
Harmon, an Idaho native, enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the tail end of World War II. He just missed seeing any action because of two hernia surgeries – one just prior to his official enlistment but after he had started the paperwork at 17 and another caused by the grueling physicality of boot camp.
He spent three years in the Navy, most of it aboard ships in the Pacific Ocean repairing refrigeration units and as an electrician. As a electrician's mate third class, he lived in a room with about 20 to 30 other men, sleeping in bunks sometimes three high and living a life "not much different than living at home except you're surrounded by water," he said.
"When I came out of the service in '48, nothing was going on as far as a welcome home events or anything like that," he said. "Seeing that memorial in person – I've seen it many times on television. I watched the dedication of it and all, but it was really something to see in person."
The trip to D.C. – which is funded and organized by a local Honor Flight nonprofit – is designed to take veterans, in particular World War II veterans, all expenses paid to see the memorials built in their honor.
Harmon and his granddaughter, Lindsay Harmon, woke up at 2 a.m. Wednesday to be at Midway by 4:15 a.m. They arrived back in Chicago around midnight, and Harmon stayed up until about 2 a.m. reading the letters his siblings, children and grandchildren wrote as well as letters from schoolchildren.
Harmon plans on writing letters of his own for rounds of "mail call" on future Honor Flight trips.
"This experience has me tearing up," he said. "I only wish my wife could have seen it."