Joe Pietro still thinks of 129 as his lucky number. It was his draft number coming out of high school and sure enough he was

Veterans and volunteers check out the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. (Photo courtesy of Honor Flight Chicago)

drafted into the Army to serve during the Vietnam War. Though he would spend less than 18 months in Vietnam, and never saw any combat duty, the experience shaped him, he says, especially when he drew little if any gratitude when he returned home.

But all of those feelings washed away last month when Pietro, of Arlington Heights, was one of 110 veterans to be guests of Honor Flight Chicago, based in Rosemont.

“It was wonderful to have people cheering for you,” says Pietro, who eventually went to college on the GI Bill and retired from the Chicago Public School System after a career as a middle school special education teacher and moonlighting at Clearbrook.

“Everyone on the flight was great,” adds Pietro, an avide pickleball and softball player, at 71. “We shared stories and people were grateful for our service. To me, it was like the real America.”

Honor Flight started in 2015 as a way to recognize the bravery, determination and patriotism of senior veterans. The one-day trip to Washington DC. includes visits to memorials built in tribute to the service of veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. This trip is provided at no cost to the veteran and is intended as a heartfelt thank you for their service and sacrifice from a grateful nation.

Pietro was aboard the fifth of seven flights scheduled this year in Chicago, and the 104th flight overall. He was one of the youngest veterans in the group, which included four from World War II, 10 from the Korean War and 97 Vietnam veterans.

Joe Pietro poses in front of the World War II Memorial.

One of the highlights for Pietro came early in the flight, when a volunteer distributed “mail call.” Each veteran received a large manila envelope filled with letters, including some from family members, school children, state officials, and in Pietro’s case, one from a school principal.

“He suggested that veterans volunteer at schools during Veteran’s Day programs,” Pietro says. “It turns out, he was from the school that I went to in Chicago, Dever Elementary School.”
Pietro already has called the school and volunteered to be a part of its Veteran’s Day program in November, and he adds that he hopes to volunteer every year at any school willing to host a veteran. It’s the least he can do, he says, to thank the Honor Flight program.



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