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WWII veterans from Chicago determined to visit memorial

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

Despite the government shutdown, a group of World War II veterans took an Honor Flight trip to Washington from Chicago Wednesday morning, to visit the memorial there.

They were not sure, when the departed Midway Airport Wednesday morning, if they were going to be able to see the WWII memorial due to the shutdown closing the park.

"We've had worse times to get into places that have shut down governments," WWII Navy veteran John Moran told FOX 32 News. "I don't think that will bother us a bit. We'll get in."

91 WWII veterans boarded planes for Washington, promising to storm the closed war memorial – barricades or not. They were determined to make it happen, even with all the political fighting on Capitol Hill.

The men and women on the Honor Flight called themselves reinforcements, ready for conflict in Washington in the face of a shutdown. The average age of this group was 89 ½ years old. Some were in frail health and others were in excellent shape. But they said they are up for the challenge.

They told FOX 32 News that enough is enough. They said they fought to keep America free, and are not going to let a bunch of politicians ruin a trip they've been looking forward to so much. The men involved in the protest fought at Normandy and in the South Pacific, and say no politician has the right to close the memorial dedicated to what they did.

The WWII memorial opened in 2004. Getting there would be difficult for some, but Honor Flight Chicago makes it possible each year by having volunteers and nurses on board the all-expenses-paid trip. The group was even entertained by mock mess hall staff and younger active military personnel at the gate they were deployed from all those years ago, before they departed Wednesday.

"We'll get in, I'm glad to see it. I'm going there to see it," one veteran said. "We had barricades before. It won't matter. We're going in."

Just as the group landed in our nation's capital, Honor Flight Chicago CEO Mary Pettinato joined Good Day Chicago over the phone to explain why her company does what they do, and why it is so important to help veterans make these journeys.

"I want to see as much as I can, and take it all in," a veteran Marine said. "As much as I can, so I can appreciate what it's all about."

Almost 4,500 of these local heroes have taken one of the 52 Honor Flights leaving Chicago.

They've been all over the world in service to this country, and they said this trip to Washington is something they've earned.

The Chicago veterans were in fact let in to the WWII memorial Wednesday afternoon. As always, the Marines were sent in first.

On Wednesday night, nearly 1,000 people gathered at Midway to welcome the veterans home.

Honor Flight Chicago CEO Mary Pettinato and WWII veteran aerial photographer Ben Arkes joined Good Day Chicago Thursday morning to talk about their trip to the memorial during the government shutdown.

They were very grateful to the national park's police for finding a way for these men and women to visit the memorial yesterday. Pettinato said they were very gracious and accommodating.

Ben, an aerial photographer in the war, said he's been to Japan, Italy and spent 16 days on the Nile. But he said the experience was the best and most important of all his travels.

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