CRYSTAL LAKE – Vietnam War veteran James Pudlas will be able to cross an item off his bucket list Friday night.
One of 24 vets going on the sixth annual honor flight through the Honor Flight Network McHenry hub, Pudlas on Thursday said the trip will allow him to finally see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., a goal he hoped to achieve after an August 2013 cancer diagnosis.
"There's names on that wall – I was a combat medic in Vietnam – and they were in the platoon I was in, so I would just like to maybe touch those names," Pudlas said.
He and the other veterans, plus one escort for each, left Thursday morning from the Crystal Lake Holiday Inn for the General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee.
Landing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday would allow time for the vets to relax and attend a banquet organized in their honor, said Randy Granath, president of the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois and organizer of the trip.
Friday was expected to be a long, but very fulfilling day.
"[Friday], we'll get on a charter bus and visit 13 memorials," Granath said. "It's a 12-hour day. ... And then at the end of the day, we go back [to the hotel] and have another big banquet for them."
While Pudlas was most looking forward to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Wallace Luettschwager of Arlington Heights was just excited for the trip itself.
"I went to the Korean War [Veterans] Memorial and the Vietnam [Veterans] Memorial years ago, but some of the other new ones weren't built then," Luettschwager said.
Before this year, the Korean War vet wouldn't necessarily have been able to go on the honor flight as the national Honor Flight Network's current focus is World War II veterans.
"We decided to expand our program this year because we got some requests last year," Granath said specifically of the McHenry hub. "I think we got seven Korean [War] vets going this year, which is great."
With the various provided meals, hotel rooms and transportation, the trip usually costs more than $40,000, but the veterans go for free largely because of fundraisers and donations, Granath said.
"I really appreciated that they make the effort to do this," Luettschwager said. "It's really an amazing thing that they've done for us veterans."
Those interested in applying for next year's trip or in donating to the Veterans Network Committee of Northern Illinois, can find information on the committee's website, www.veteransnetworkcommittee.com/.