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SALEM, ORE. — The message came during dinner, delivered by one of the nurses who was traveling with the group of local World War II veterans.
The daughter of William Vorisek insisted they continue their trip as planned. That’s what her dad would have wanted.
And so the 49 veterans, many of them from the Mid-Willamette Valley, did. They spent the weekend in Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight of Oregon, a member of the national nonprofit network that transports veterans free of charge to visit the World War II memorial.
If only Vorisek could have been with them, it would have been a perfect trip.
Vorisek, 88, of Newberg died on the flight from Portland to Chicago. He was one of three veterans who boarded the plane with a portable oxygen concentrator. Witnesses said he collapsed in the aisle sometime around mid-flight after coming out of the restroom.
Three nurses with Honor Flight of Oregon tried to revive him before the plane landed at Midway International Airport. His daughter, Jill Dorrell, also of Newberg, had accompanied him on the trip and was by his side. He was pronounced dead at Holy Cross Hospital at 1 p.m. Friday, according to the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office.
The rest of the group continued on to Washington, D.C.
Vorisek, who served with the Army’s 288th Signal Company and monitored and decoded Japanese communications in the South Pacific during the war, would have wanted them to.
“We felt so bad he didn’t get to see the memorial,” said Salem’s Janet Long, who went as a guardian to Marine Corps veteran Ed Killeen, also of Salem. “They waited a year and half to two years for this. We knew how special it was for all of them.
“We dedicated the rest of the weekend to him.”
The veterans visited other memorials, including the Korean and Vietnam, but seeing the World War II Memorial — their memorial — was most special.
“Tears of joy were running down my face,” said Willard Scott, a Navy veteran who lives in Salem.
Long struggled to find the words to describe the emotions of the entire weekend. She thought of her late husband, Bill, who served in the Army during the Korean War, and her two brothers, who also served in the military.
Everyone thought of Vorisek.
“I think the vets were thinking of him often,” said Gail Yakopatz, president of Honor Flight of Oregon. “But they were also remembering their other fallen friends and the new friends they were making.”
The timing was perfect for their arrival — the day after the government shutdown was lifted. They were among the first veterans to be greeted by park rangers back on duty at the National Mall and Memorial Parks. Honor Flight groups were given access to the mall during the shutdown.
“They were so friendly and welcoming and ready to see veterans again,” Yakopatz said. “It was really noticeable.”
After seeing the memorials on Saturday, the group had dinner that night at a local Elks lodge, during which time there was a surprise mail call. Each veteran received a mail package. Family members, friends and schoolchildren had been enlisted to write letters ahead of time.
There were other highlights. The Southwest Airlines pilot on the flight from Portland to Chicago shook the hand of each veteran. Hundreds of people, many waving American flags, gathered at Portland International Airport to welcome them home.
“I got more people clapping hands for me on that trip than I did the rest of my life,” said Vic Fryer, a World War II Navy veteran who lives in Salem.
Yakopatz said there were 100 Honor Flights scheduled for October out of 28 states. Those are 3,500 veterans nationwide who are getting an opportunity to visit their memorial.
Thousands more are waiting for their chance or missing out. We have 41 veterans from the Mid-Willamette Valley on a waiting list, and Yakopatz is busy raising funds for future flights.
Long and the Chemeketa Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution raised enough money to sponsor 10 veterans on the most recent trip. They originally set out to sponsor one.
Yakopatz said it costs about $350 to sponsor a veteran on an Honor Flight, factoring in airline discounts, and she hopes to be able to take 25 veterans from our area on a flight next spring.
“There’s urgency to the program,” She said. “Time is not on their side.”