Priest veteran visits Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight Chicago

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Father George Kane takes a moment to reflect at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. on July 12. He visited there as part of Honor Flight Chicago. (Photo provided)

Father George Kane, 97, participated in an Honor Flight for veterans of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War on July 12, visiting armed services and war memorials in Washington, D.C.

But for Kane, who served as a U.S. Air Force chaplain from 1959 to 1963, including time in Korea, the memorials were not the most memorable part of the day. More important was the affirmation that the veterans received from those who greeted them in the nation’s capital and when they returned to Midway International Airport.

“What struck me the most were the people who affirmed us when we got off at the different stops, at the memorials and the museums,” Kane said in a telephone interview July 14. “Especially when we returned to Midway at about 9 o’clock at night, and there were hundreds of people there.”

Kane said he was  the oldest of 111 veterans on his flight, including the one World War II veteran, who was 96. Most of the veterans he traveled with were from the Vietnam War era, he said, and he thought the affirmation they received was especially important. It was also important for the veterans who served in support roles instead of in combat.

“We were present when these wars took place in different kinds of ways,” he said. “The people who applauded us and said, ‘Thank you for your service,’ they were people who had grandfathers and fathers and brothers and sisters and relatives and friends who were in the service, and they understand the need for affirmation.”

Honor Flight Chicago began flying World War II veterans on one-day trips to Washington, D.C., in 2008; several years later, Korean War veterans were added to the program, and now it is open to Vietnam War veterans as well. The events of the day, which involve hundreds of volunteers, are free for the veterans.

Dawn Mayer, a friend of Kane’s since he hired her as youth minister at Church of the Holy Spirit in Schaumburg more than 30 years ago, learned about Honor Flight Chicago from working in senior homes and hearing from other veterans how meaningful it was to them. But she wasn’t sure whether his service would qualify.

“I knew he was in the service, but it’s not something he really talks about,” she said.

She asked him more about it, then filled out the application for him. Someone from Honor Flight Chicago called him back to ask a few more questions, and the next thing he knew, he was notified that he was scheduled for a flight about two weeks later with Mayer traveling as his “guardian,” a volunteer who assists veteran participants.

Apparently, Kane said, he was eligible to go because he served in Korea during “the Vietnam era,” although he worked more directly with servicemen who went to Vietnam when he returned stateside and was assigned as a chaplain to an airfield in Florida where fighter pilots trained on WWII-vintage planes before being sent to southeast Asia.

“That was a very sober environment,” Kane recalled. “They were all volunteers. Everyone there was a volunteer except for me. I was assigned.”

Kane took the lessons he learned in the service, especially  about clearly defining a mission and creating the structures necessary to achieve it, into his ministry when he returned to the archdiocese. He served at Holy Rosary Parish; Holy Cross Parish (65th Street), St. George Parish (Wentworth Avenue) and St. Hubert Parish, Hoffman Estates, as well as teaching at St. Mary of the Lake University/Mundelein Seminary before being named the founding pastor of Church of the Holy Spirit Parish in Schaumburg in 1974. After retiring in 1996, he assisted at Holy Family Parish, Inverness.

Kane now lives in Friendship Village senior community in Schaumburg, and received a blessing at Church of the Holy Spirit on July 9.

Mayer was able to collect letters of appreciation from parishioners there, as well as residents at Friendship Village and parishioners at Holy Family. Those letters were delivered at “mail call” on the flight home, when all the veterans receive notes from their loved ones.

“He was tired by then, and he took his glasses off and said he couldn’t read, so I read a few to him,” Mayer said. “They talked about how he had accompanied their families through baptisms, first Communions, marriages … just how much he meant to them.”

In addition to the Holy Family parishioners, Mayer contacted Father John Barkemeyer, an archdiocesan priest who is an active-duty Army chaplain in Washington, D.C., whom Kane knew when Barkemeyer was just starting in ministry. Barkemeyer was able to meet Kane and Mayer when their group visited the World War II Memorial, she said.

“The most impressive thing to me was that he did all of it, all those trips up and down the bus stairs,” Mayer said, noting that Kane broke a hip in February. “Of course, it was the adrenaline that carried him along. But the whole trip was very, very impactful.”

“It was a great experience because of the experience of patriotism,” Kane said. “We visited the memorials in stone of the men and women who died in those conflicts. Some of the artwork was magnificent. Some of the statues were beautiful. … It touched the people deeply. The men were touched even more deeply by the expression of the appreciation of the people.”


  • priests
  • veterans

Related Articles