Duty, Honor, Country
Tour of duty rewarded with tour of honor
By John Lowrey
There is a code of honor expressed in many ways by the veterans that have served our country. There are also seven principles that all co-ops follow and the seventh principle is concern for community. Co-op employees also live by that principle, and Rural Electric Convenience Cooperative Journeyman Lineman Craig Costello is a good example.
Costello’s concern was for the World War II veterans in his community. More than 16 million of the “Greatest Generation” served their country during that war and about 2 million are still alive. According to the World War II Illinois Veterans Memorial, 987,000 Illinois residents served during World War II. Of those, 22,000 gave their lives.
To help honor their service Costello became a lifetime member and volunteer with the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, which is part of the nationwide Honor Flight program. The Honor Flight network is dedicated to providing WW II veterans with a free trip to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials honoring their service and sacrifice.
The Honor Flight Network program was conceived by Earl Morse, a physician assistant and retired Air Force Captain. Morse wanted to honor the veterans he had taken care of for the past 27 years. After retiring from the Air Force in 1998, Morse was hired by the Department of Veterans Affairs to work in a small clinic in Springfield, Ohio. In May of 2004, the World War II Memorial was finally completed and dedicated in Washington, D.C. and quickly became the topic of discussion among his World War II veteran patients.
Morse repeatedly asked these veterans if they would ever travel out to visit their memorial. Most felt that eventually, somehow, they would make it to D.C., perhaps with a family member or friend.
As summer turned to fall and then winter, these same veterans returned to the clinic for their follow-up visits. Morse asked if they accomplished their dream of visiting the World War II Memorial. By now, for most of the veterans he asked, reality had settled in; it was clear to most that it simply wasn’t financially or physically possible for them to make the journey. Most of these senior heroes were in their 80s and lacked the physical and mental wherewithal to complete a trip on their own. Families and friends also lacked the resources and time to complete the three- to four-day trip to the nation’s capital.
Here in Illinois Ray Wiedle is Chairman of the Land of Lincoln Honor Flight.
“My wife and I moved from Chatham, Ill. to Saint Ann, Mo. in 2007,” Wiedle said. “Our real estate agent was chairman of the Franklin County Honor Flight in Missouri. I had two uncles who were WWII veterans, but they passed away before the memorial was completed. He asked me to be a guardian for their flights and I went on three flights as a guardian.”
Then Wiedle met Bob Matteson, a WWII veteran from Springfield, Ill., on one of the flights. “He told me there was very little information about the Honor Flight Network in the Springfield area,” said Wiedle. “I told him I would help start a hub in Springfield. We talked to some of our friends and they were interested in forming a hub. They asked me to be the Chairman of Land of Lincoln Honor Flight. We were recognized as an official hub of the Honor Flight Network in March of 2009.”
LLHF is a 501 (c) 3 organization that receives no government funds. All monies are donated by individuals, business and organizations. The veterans fly free and the guardians pay for the flight.
Costello joined the group as a guardian volunteer in part to honor his son who serves in the Air Force. The most recent trip was with a group of veterans and volunteers who left on Sept. 13.
“I felt I needed to do my part to honor the vets. It is a one-day trip and when they come back to the airport in Springfield around 9 p.m. after a long day, the airport is packed with people, relatives, news people and color guards. The vets don’t know this is coming, but when they get home to this crowd of friends and family it is so amazing.”
Costello says Wiedle came to the electric co-op’s annual meeting this year. “We were giving away veterans’ pins to all the veterans. And Ray signed up several at the meeting at his booth.”
Wiedle says, “I just hope they feel we’ve given them just a little bit of the thanks for what they’ve done for us.”
Observing the returning veterans on Sept. 13 as they received the hugs, kisses and thanks from family and friends in the airport terminal it was obvious from the smiles that they truly welcomed the “little bit of thanks.”
Make donations via mail to Land of Lincoln Honor Flight, 57 Country Place, Springfield, IL 62703.
Land of Lincoln Honor Flight also sells memberships — $10 annually, or $50 for a lifetime membership (World War II veterans may join for free). Membership forms are available at landoflincolnhonorflight.org.
More information can be seen on the website www.landoflincolnhonorflight.org or on the national website www.honorflight.org. Or contact Ray Wiedle, Chairman, 217-622-1473.