Operation Meatball Goes to Illinois: An Afternoon With The Greater Peoria Honor Flight

There is so much to tell from our adventures in Illinois. We met so many marvelous individuals, enjoyed some very special moments, and visited dear friends we haven't seen in several years (some of whom we haven't seen since we first started Operation Meatball!). It was truly a fabulous experience. The next few blogposts won't necessarily be in order of events, but you can be sure they will be filled with photos! 


We arrived in Peoria, Illinois, late Saturday night brimming with excitement about finally getting to see our GPHF (Greater Peoria Honor Flight) friends again after nearly 3 years, and hopefully raising some money to bring veterans to DC. 

The fundraiser for GPHF was being held at a local museum called "Wheels O' Time." I can hardly think of a more enjoyable venue. Immediately upon entering the main building, we felt as if we had stepped back in time to a scene from the movie "State Fair" (1945) or possibly the boardwalk of Coney Island in the 1930s. Classic cars from the 10s, 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s filled the center hall. On either side were countless rooms with various amusements such as a presidential barbershop quartet, a vintage grocer's store, a music parlor, reading room, mechanics shop, and much more! 

 PC: Phyllis Piraino 

PC: Phyllis Piraino 

12pm on the dot, veterans and guests started to arrive. One of the jolliest groups of veterans we've ever met arrived and immediately had us all in stitches of laughter.  For quite a nice while we chatted and tried to keep everyone's names straight. Some of the banter went like this, "I'm Barney. This is Harold. That's Doc. Watch what you say in front of Doc. He remembers everything." Then Harold would interrupt with, "Don't believe anything Barney says." So Barney would say, "I only tell the truth." 

 Barney and Harold. 

Barney and Harold. 

Turns out Barney and Harold have been friends since they were school kids. Over 75 years. Talking with the two of them was like watching an Abbot and Costello show. During the war, Harold joined the Marines, while Barney took the Air Corps. I asked them how they chose their respective branches. Barney explained that, in their school programs, the recruiters would periodically come and give presentations on why the young men should enlist, complete with a full (and very dashing) color guard. "I went with the Air Corps. They seemed to think I was a poor flyer so they stuck me in training for 2 years."

"And Mr. Bergen?"

Barney chuckled. "Harold saw those fancy Marines' uniforms... and he was gone." 

"No." The Marine Raider said emphatically. "That's not what made me join. I wanted to fight, and the Marines are always first in."

"It was the uniform." Said Barney patting his friend on the shoulder. 


A fun part of the afternoon's program was Faith's singing. For today she had lined up a whole bunch of 30s, 40s, and even a few 50s numbers. Whether she is singing to one person or 50, it's always exciting to watch the audience response. 

One Korean War veteran (with the best smile!) arrived and asked right away where the singing could be found. I directed him to the upper level "Music Parlor." 

"When I was in DC," he said, "There were some girls singing and dancing to the "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy." I wanted to sing it with them but I couldn't remember the words. So I made sure to bring them with me today!" He pulled out of his pocket the lyrics to the Andrew Sister's hit. I ran upstairs and told Faith about her special request. "I don't have the music for it," she said, "But we can play the Andrews Sisters' track and sing-along." The Korean vet was delighted and they proceeded to sing (and dance) the most adorable duet along with the original music. 


The whole afternoon was just so much fun. It was splendid helping to raise money for one of our very favorite organizations, Honor Flight. Below are just a few more photos. 

 Honor Flight wouldn't get very far without it's wonderful veteran Guardians, Butlers, Valets, or Escorts. Jubilee and Faith are pictured here with one of our friendliest HF guardians, John Myers. We met Mr. Myers back in 2014 and spent quite a while chatting with him and his veteran, Bill Vasen. It was swell getting to see him again after all this time!! 

Honor Flight wouldn't get very far without it's wonderful veteran Guardians, Butlers, Valets, or Escorts. Jubilee and Faith are pictured here with one of our friendliest HF guardians, John Myers. We met Mr. Myers back in 2014 and spent quite a while chatting with him and his veteran, Bill Vasen. It was swell getting to see him again after all this time!! 

 Jubilee with one of the Air Corps Veterans. He is wearing his original cap!! pc: Phyllis Piraino

Jubilee with one of the Air Corps Veterans. He is wearing his original cap!! pc: Phyllis Piraino

 Some of the super GPHF volunteers. pc: Phyllis Piraino

Some of the super GPHF volunteers. pc: Phyllis Piraino

 One of our new friends (and a real sweetheart!), Gene Neeley. A veteran devoted to Greater Peoria Honor Flight. pc: Phyllis Piraino

One of our new friends (and a real sweetheart!), Gene Neeley. A veteran devoted to Greater Peoria Honor Flight. pc: Phyllis Piraino

 pc: Phyllis Piraino

pc: Phyllis Piraino

Stay tuned for more stories and photos!