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Honor Flight 2019: Sharing Veteran Stories

Every veteran has a story.

“My name is Dale Meredith, I served in Vietnam.”

“I’m Elizaeth Saimi Kiggen. I’m a veteran myself, United States Army in Iraq, but volunteered to be a guardian.”

Elizabeth and Dale. Two different wars, two different branches: one common goal.

And not even an act of God can keep them from the Greater Peoria Honor Flight.

“I’m just proud to be an American,” said Kiggen. “I’m proud to be a veteran I’m proud of all our veterans for what we do and have done. Because America doesn’t know how free we are compared to the rest of the world.”

Elizabeth Kiggen is in Washington D.C. to give back to other veterans, and herself. Service runs deep in her family; in fact, her son Paul was in the Army as well.

“We were both Airborne. I got to pin him his wings because I was Airborne first,” she said with a laugh.

She’s also in Washington to help her fellow veterans, because like so many others, her son dealt with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

He took his life in 2018.

“Nobody wants to talk about it, but people need to,” Kiggen said.

“Not just myself, but my whole family had to deal with his loss. And not just my family, there’s hundreds of thousands…hundreds of thousands.”

That’s why she continues writing, volunteering, and working.

“I just want to help people. I couldn’t help my son…sometimes, it’s hard to help myself.”

“But I love helping people. And we’re all together in this.”

Dale Meredith was pushed to go on the Honor Flight by some of his friends. He, like many Vietnam-era veterans, didn’t get any kind of warm welcome when they came home.

That all changed when he walked into Reagan National Airport.

“Seeing all those people that…well, nobody knows who you are, anything. They just took time out to welcome you.”

He sighed and smiled. “It makes you feel like someone cares.”

That feeling of inclusion continued throughout the day with each stop – and culminated with Operation: Homecoming in Peoria.

“All I can say is: wow. It’s hard to explain. Such gratitude, it’s…overwhelming.”

Every veteran has a story.

From the server at Peoria’s 50’s Diner who sponsored one of her customers –

To the father battling cancer long enough to make the trip –

To the family earning closure decades later –

Each story is worthy of celebration and being retold.

Just because the April 30th Honor Flight has come and gone doesn’t mean you can’t help.

The next flight is Thursday, May 23rd, and Operation: Homecoming still needs your help.

Take a few hours out of your evening to make a night our Heart of Illinois veterans will remember for the rest of their lives.

Mason Dowling

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