(CBS) —World War II veterans, many now in their 90s, have an opportunity to visit their memorial in Washington D.C. – all thanks to a program called Honor Flight Chicago.

Five thousand of them have already taken the trip, but the organizers say their work won’t be complete until the other 20,000 Chicago area vets from that war have the same experience.

CBS 2’s Rob Johnson reports.

They come before dawn to Midway Airport: 89 veterans, most around 90 years old, going on a trip of a lifetime, thanks to Honor Flight Chicago.

“My dad was a World War II veteran, and I said to him one day if you were on your deathbed what would you say I wish I had done? And he said, ‘More than anything I wanted to see that World War II memorial,’” says Mary Pettinato, who co-founded the organization six years ago.

Mary made it happen for him and thousands of other vets by raising money and organizing volunteers, including doctors, nurses and chaperones, called “guardians.”

They collectively checked them in, to their gate, with a little 1940s fanfare and onto a Southwest Arlines flight for the trip to D.C., which includes a heroes’ welcome at Dulles Airport.

The focus of the trip is the World War II memorial — their memorial. The stars there represent those who lost their lives, and a ceremony honors all the heroes who fought for freedom.

This trip is a time for these vets to bond and remember. Among them are Congressional Gold Medal winners James Reynolds and John Vanoy, who served at a time when troops were segregated.

“We were trained in a segregated camp, and we were recognized finally in 2011 as the first African-American Marines,” Reynolds said.

Then there’s Min Imamura, a Japanese-American. His family’s land was taken from them, they were imprisoned in a tent camp in Colorado, and later he was drafted and sent to fight in Europe.

Despite that experience, he says, “I have no qualms. … I tell you what: There’s no country like the United States.”

Honor Flight Chicago has four more flights this year. The next is July 30, and then there’s one in September and two in October.  Find out more here or call (773)227-8387.

Tomorrow night at 10: more of the joy and also the sorrow.



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