Photo by Dermot Connolly
Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4 th ) and his wife, Linda, proudly hold up the lawn sign delivered to their Kolin Avenue house to show that he has been chosen for an Honor Flight to Washington when the trips resume.
By Dermot Connolly
Oak Lawn Trustee Terry Vorderer (4th), a Vietnam War veteran, is among several area residents whose Honor Flights to Washington, D.C. planned for this year, had to be postponed until 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2008, Honor Flight Chicago — the local division of a national organization — has been recognizing America’s senior war veterans by flying them on one-day, all expenses paid trips to Washington to tour the memorials built in their honor. The non-profit organization originally focused on World War II veterans, but in recent years, the program expanded to include veterans of the Korean and Vietnam wars.
Until the suspension of the program this year, Honor Flight Chicago had sponsored 95 flights, with 8,728 veterans, according to its website. These included 6,318 veterans of World War II, 2,030 from the Korean War, and 380 Vietnam veterans.
Vorderer, a retired Oak Lawn police captain, said he is proud to display the lawn sign that representatives of Honor Flight Chicago dropped off at his house on Kolin Avenue recently to recognize his selection They were given to everyone scheduled to go on one of the flights to Washington this year.
“ I consider it a great honor to be chosen for this. I am looking forward to the trip whenever it can take place,” said Vorderer. “I hear from people who have gone that it is a very long, but memorable day.
"Everything depends on the virus. It is very understandable that it had to be put off,” he said last week, during a casual conversation alongside his wife, Linda, at their home.
Linda is a retired art teacher at Queen of Peace High School in Burbank.
“ It is understandable that it had to be put off. They have to worry about a plane full of older people who seem to be more susceptible to the coronavirus,” he said.
Vorderer, 73, said it is nice to see Vietnam War veterans being honored, something that he recalls only began in the 1980s, long after he returned from service in 1968.
The lifelong Oak Lawn resident had been drafted the year before, shortly after graduating from Brother Rice High School.
“ Of course, I didn’t want to go. I was getting on with my life, with a good job at Bus’ Drive-In restaurant,” which was once located at 4510 W. 95 th St. “But my father was a World War II veteran and I felt it was my duty to serve my country.”
“ I like to say I went to Vietnam as an 18-year-old, and returned a year later as a 40-year-old, because the war taught me the value of sacrifice, loss of life, and heroism.”
Vorderer said he first went to Washington when he was in training as an infantry soldier. He was assigned to the 1 st Infantry Division, known as the Big Red One, with a reputation as a powerful fighting force.
“ I saw a lot of action over there,” said Vorderer, noting that the North Vietnamese forces launched the Tet Offensive about a month before he returned home.
He said his eventual return to Oak Lawn was jarring, finding himself back home barely 24 hours after he was in combat in the Vietnam jungles.
“ I didn’t realize it for a long time, and nobody talked about things like that. But I found out later I had PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder),” said the trustee.
He said he “compartmentalized” his war experience, and thought he was doing OK. He took a job with the railroads but said he found it hard to go to work there every day.
Vorderer said he was saved by switching careers to the Oak Lawn Police Department, where he rose through the ranks to become captain of the patrol division before retiring after more than 30 years.
He recently stepped down as commander of Disabled American Veterans Post 84, which expanded its membership so much under his leadership that it outgrew its meeting place, which used to be the Oak Lawn VFW Post at 9514 S. 52 nd Ave. The group now meets at the Elks Lodge in Crestwood.
“ I was hesitant to consider myself disabled, but I got involved because I want to help those veterans who need the benefits a lot more than me,” he said.
Vorderer noted he had purposely avoiding visiting the Vietnam War Memorial during several trips to Washington because he did not want to think about it too much. But a few years ago, while he was in front of the Memorial, reflecting on the names of men who served during his time there, he got a call on his cellphone from Linda, his wife.
She was calling to tell him she had just received a call from a Vietnam veterans association informing her that she won a substantial scholarship for telling his story about his time in Vietnam and return home.
“ That call came while I stood in front of that panel. I couldn’t help but think those men who died in my company long ago were sending me a message: ‘We died, you lived. Tell the story of the war,’” he said.
Since then, he has spent a lot of time telling his story at local schools.
“ Another reason I am looking forward to the trip is that my son, Matthew, is going to be my chaperone. It will be good to experience it together. He had considered joining the military but he had some health issues so this will give me an opportunity to share my experience with him. He can hear from other veterans too,” he said.