Honor Flight Chicago honors Lansing vets

Korean War veterans Bob Chambers and Rich Zaremba get a hero’s welcome

by Melanie Jongsma

LANSING, Ill. (October 11, 2017) – When the van pulled into the parking lot at Sunrise Health Foods on Torrence Avenue, Bob Chambers and Rich Zaremba didn’t understand what was going on. The police were there along with a fire truck and a pack of motorcycles. It was around 10:30pm.

Korean War veterans Bob Chambers and Rich Zaremba returned to Lansing in a white van, where they were greeted by Legion Rider Nick Grigutis and Lansing Police Chief Dennis Murrin. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Chambers and Zaremba were returning from a day as guests of Honor Flight Chicago, a group founded in 2008 to recognize America’s senior war veterans by flying them to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorials built in their honor. The two Lansing residents had been up since 3:00am that morning, because they had to be at Midway Airport around 4:00am. But even after a day of airports, flights, walking, and reliving memories and emotions, the adrenaline was keeping them energized.

“We’re here to escort you home,” explained one of the motorcycle men, Nick Grigutis, as he approached the van. Nick is President of the Legion Riders, and part of their mission is to escort area vets who return from an Honor Flight experience.

A day with Honor Flight

Information from the Honor Flight Chicago website explains:

“The one-day, all-expense paid trip is filled with appreciation, tributes, memories and gratitude.
“Many veterans form new bonds with one another during the day. Countless more confess their lives are rejuvenated afterward. It is only one day, but the experience can be life changing.”

Chambers and Zaremba had never met each other before Honor Flight, though they are separated by only a couple miles on the north end of Lansing. In the weeks leading up to their scheduled flight, Chambers called Zaremba, and the two men and their wives got together to introduce themselves. Both men had served in the Korean War, the “Forgotten War.” And both had served in the Army. But it took Honor Flight to make the connection.

A hero’s welcome

From the Sunrise parking lot, police cars, fire trucks, and motorcycles escorted the white van through the streets of Lansing to their homes. Lights, sirens, and horns made the neighbors wonder what in the world was happening, but any annoyance dissipated when they realized the commotion was a celebration of two heroes returning home.

Lights, sirens, and horns made the neighbors wonder what was happening, but annoyance dissipated when they realized it was a celebration of two heroes returning home. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)

In the glow of flashing police car and fire truck strobes, Korean War veteran Rich Zaremba thanked Nick Grigutis and the Legion Riders for escorting him home. In turn, they thanked him for his military service. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
Bob Chambers was surprised and humbled by the hero’s welcome he received. (Photo: Melanie Jongsma)
This was the last flight of Honor Flight Chicago’s season, which typically runs seven flights between April and October. Each flight carries approximately 100 veterans, and this year sources say each of these flights included a Lansing vet, though this information has not yet been confirmed by Honor Flight Chicago.

Getting involved

There are a number of ways to get involved with Honor Flight Chicago—as a veteran, a volunteer, or a guardian. These opportunities are described at honorflightchicago.org.

Veterans who want to apply often wonder if health conditions will prevent them from experiencing any aspect of the day. “The answer is no,” says Honor Flight Chicago. “This day is for them, and HFC works with veterans and their families to ensure their comfort and safety.”

Because of their age, World War II veterans are given priority, but there is now room for Korean War vets as well. The website also includes an application for Vietnam War veterans, with an explanation that they are not able to fly at this time, but submitting the application will reserve their place in line when openings do become available.

To view video footage of the Legion Riders returning Zaremba and Chambers to their Lansing homes, visit “Legion Riders escort Lansing heroes home.”

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