PALOS HILLS, IL — A Palos Hills man recovering from COVID-19 got a pleasant surprise this week when volunteers from Honor Flight Chicago knocked on his door and asked him to step outside. There on his lawn was a sign: “HONOR FLIGHT CHICAGO SALUTES THIS VIETNAM WAR VETERAN.”
Chuck McCloud, 70, had originally been scheduled to fly on to Washington D.C. to take in the sights — including the Vietnam War Memorial — in April, but Honor Flight Chicago regretfully cancelled the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Honor Flight Chicago is a non-profit organization that flies senior war heroes to the nation’s capital for a day of honor at the memorials built in tribute to them. The group started flying World War II veterans to the D.C. in 2008. Honor Flight Chicago began flying Korean War veterans in 2016, and recently expanded to flying Vietnam era veterans in 2019.
“I’m honored to be chosen,” McCloud said. “I just want to go with the other veterans to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I’ve never been to Washington, D.C. and I’ve always wanted to go.
In 1969, McCloud was drafted into the army. After completing basic training at Fort Campbell in Kentucky, he had 21 days’ leave at home before shipping off to Vietnam. He spent the next two years loading 100-pound rounds into a Howitzer.
“The rounds weighed 100 pounds and I weighed 138,” McCloud recalled. “If you were standing outside it, the blast would almost blow you over.”
McCloud served two years of active duty in Vietnam, two years’ of active duty in the reserved, and two years of inactive reserve duty.
“They didn’t have the lottery system [to determine the order of those called to service] until after I was in,” McCloud said. “They were still assigning serial numbers. Now they use your social security number.”
Coming home, McCloud quickly learned when applying to jobs to not mention he had served in Vietnam.
“You could tell them you were in the Army, but say you were stationed in Germany,” he said. “I never wore a [Vietnam Veterans] hat until 20 years ago. They didn’t start respecting us until 1986.”
In 1967, when he came up from Arkansas to visit his big brother, he met his wife, Nedra, who was still in high school “and never went back.” They were married in 1970, never anticipating the weirdness of 2020. The couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary on Aug. 24.
Chuck and Nedra never had kids, but were adopted by the children in their Palos Hills neighborhood.
“I was the only man home during the day, so I put on my share of training wheels,” McCloud said, who is retired from the trucking industry. “Now they bring us food, masks, wipes.”
In April, McCloud started not to feel well. When his temperature shot up, he entered Hines Veterans Hospital, where he tested positive for COVID-19. He spent four days attached to IVs and wearing an oxygen mask.
“I was one of the people who thought it was a hoax,” McCloud said. “I survived H1N1 and Vietnam. My wife tells me, ‘God has plans for you. I want to see what he'[s going to do.'”
McCloud is hopeful his Honor Flight will soar in 2021.
“The greatest thing will be seeing all those veterans getting off the plane,” he said.