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Peoria Honor Flight: Where Were the Black Veterans? By Chama St. Louis

Members of the Honor Flight at the World War II Monument Photo Credit: Tami Stieger

Last month I had the distinct honor to board the Peoria Honor Flight as an observer that was filled with American Heroes. Bona fide Veterans, Real life GI Joes, decorated in courage, bonds of friendship, and loyalty to their respective branches of service. In awe of their stories and the wealth of history that was bestowed before me, it was truly an awesome experience. 

The day started bright and early with a 4am airport arrival time. Upon arrival veterans were paired with their guardians for the duration of the trip, checked in and got to take a photo with a professional photographer in front of an honor flight media wall.

  Upon boarding a special plane reserved only for those participating in the honor flight, patriotic decor lined the airplane. They served us a hot breakfast and made sure that we had everything we needed to ensure a VIP style flight. For most, it would be their first time visiting Washington D.C. to see the monuments built-in their honor. 

No description of what was going to happen upon landing could adequately prepare the veterans for what they were about to experience. As we left the plane, we walked through a parade of citizens creating an aisle to cheer and clap for them. As we rounded the corner there was a live band, cameras, and more cheering citizens eager to shake their hands and thank them for their service to our country.

The rest of the trip was filled with emotion inclusive of happiness, laughter and at times sadness when reflecting on their past contributions to our country. Our buses were accompanied by a police escort that literally stopped traffic to make way for the veterans. 

We arrived back to Peoria around 10pm to a live choir, care bags filled to the top with gifts for the veterans, and another parade with hundreds of people filling the entire foyer space of the airport. They sang, they clapped, they cheered. The veterans were so filled with emotions; some to the point of tears. I was filled with emotion. I cried during various points of the trip. I don’t think I realized to what magnitude they DESERVED this level of love and adoration until I was able to experience the honor flight.

However, painfully obvious to me was that of all the beautiful souls on the honor flight, there was only one African-American veteran present. 

I thought to myself how can this be? Black Americans have a rich history as patriots of this nation from Crispus Attucks, James Armistead Lafayette, Peter Salem, John Hanson and the establishment of the Continental Congress, the Tuskegee Airmen, to even famed athletes and Civil Rights Activists.

As I looked around I began to assess the age of the veterans and thought of the era of their service and recalled hearing firsthand accounts from my husband’s grandfather, a WW II vet. He spoke about the hostility and disrespect that he was awarded for his valiant efforts returning from service in comparison to White soldiers. How he felt towards the acts of war in relation to what he was called to do and witness. When speaking he began to retreat into a discouraged heartbroken state not really wanting to think about his service. When reminiscing on his account and taking in the celebration that I had the privilege to witness, I began to see that Black soldiers weren’t present because they carried burdens of multiple wars. The experiences shared with their fellow veterans were not the same. Theirs are the wars of racism, disrespect, freedom stripped, and inequality for the history that they have provided for all. They were shipped off thinking they were changing the world only to come home to disenfranchisement and a bigger war than what they could imagine.

America then is the same America now only with social media and a Reality Star as a President. The semantics change but the evasive question of what can we do to include more African-Americans into a fellowship with their fellow Patriots of this nation is haunting.

I think a part of the solution would be to recognize the distinction of the wars they faced and apologize in services that provide the welcome home celebration they rightfully deserve with distinct honor, respect, and a set of medals that stand in the same light as a Purple Heart because it takes a different type of soldier to be willing to die for a country that oppresses him. 

The executive board of the Peoria Honor Flight also recognizes the racial disparity that exists with not enough black veterans taking the flight and would like to take necessary steps to fix this problem. I would personally like to encourage our black veterans, specifically those who fought in the Korean War, WWII, and Vietnam to take the honor flight. Go and get the celebration you deserve, the special treatment, the gifts and the praise. Our black veterans deserve to take part of the honor flight just as much as anyone else. 

*If you’d like to take part in the honor flight please contact Chama St. Louis at