SCHERERVILLE | More than 300 people gathered Sunday at Teibel's Restaurant to raise money to send armed forces veterans in Northwest Indiana on the spring Honor Flight.
The event, emceed by Times Columnist Philip Potempa, included a salute to the late Bob Hope, the comedian who entertained overseas troops, especially during the holiday season, during the six decades prior to his death at age 100 in 2003.
The Honor Flight program began in 2005 as a way for World War II veterans to visit the memorial in Washington, D.C., and continues to provide all-expenses-paid trips to the nation's capital.
Paul Joyce, of Highland, a World War II veteran who went on an Honor Flight in October, said the flights are "so well done, it is hard to believe it's all in one day."
Even though the trips are only a day, many of the veterans on the flight appreciate the opportunity. Peter Stenberg, of the Honor Flight branch in Chicago, said the sentiment of appreciation is overdue.
"Most of the veterans, when they came back from World War II, didn't have any parades," Stenberg said.
"There were parades when the war ended, but all the guys were still over in Europe and Japan. The parades were for the people who stayed home. These guys never got the parades, so this is a day to honor them and so many of them get closure to a part of their life."
Guests scrambled to purchase 100 special tins of SPAM canned luncheon meat, donated by Wise Way Foods and a common war-time ration staple, as raffle entries for a chance to win prizes ranging from an electric snowblower and play tickets.
More than $1,000 was raised Sunday to help fund the spring flight.
Stenberg said the flights run about once a month from April to October and serve almost 100 veterans each. Almost 5,000 veterans have been on the honor flight so far. Stenberg said many more have yet to make the trip, and the program is beginning to include Korean War veterans.
"It was a beautiful flight, and words can't describe it correctly," said Jim Nolan, of Merrillville, a World War II veteran who took an Honor Flight in June. "That flight thrilled me half to death."
Nolan said he appreciated the opportunity to visit Arlington National Cemetery to see a friend's grave.
"I'd recommend the flight to anybody," he said. "It's just too bad it doesn't accommodate more people."
In the Chicago area, Stenberg estimated about 18,000 World War II veterans are still living.
"We'll never get them all," he said. "The youngest vet [going on the spring flight] is 85."