Operation HerStory to send women veterans on state’s first all-female Honor Flight

The flight departs Oct. 7 and will carry 100 women veterans who served between 1940-1975.

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Women veterans of every branch of the U.S. military salute as the national anthem is sung at an auditorium at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library for the announcement of the first all women honor flight to Washington D.C. later this year.

Women veterans of every branch of the U.S. military salute during the national anthem at the Pritzker Military Museum and Library on Tuesday. They were there for the announcement of the first all-women Honor Flight to Washington D.C., scheduled for later this year.

Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Constance Edwards attended her daughter’s career day dressed in an Army Nurse Corps uniform like the one she wore while serving in the Vietnam War. Later, her daughter came home from school crying.

“Your momma is a big liar,” a classmate’s father had told her. She couldn’t have been a military nurse, he said, because women weren’t in Vietnam.

Edwards was.

She is one of many women who served in the U.S. military but was treated as if she hadn’t. Now, a program called Operation HerStory wants to send 100 of those women in Illinois on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where they will tour war monuments for a day and be celebrated for their service upon their return home. 

“A lot of the women didn’t even know they were veterans because they were not considered veterans back then,” said Ginny Narsete, the founder of Operation HerStory and a retired master sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. “They were reluctant to take these flights — they are reluctant to take their place because they didn’t know if they qualified.”

Women who served between 1940 and 1975 are invited to participate. Almost 40 have signed up already, Narsete said. 

The flight departs the morning of Oct. 7, returning late that same day. In D.C., the women will tour the Women In Military Service for America Memorial and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. 

It will be the first all-female Honor Flight in the state.

Though Operation HerStory is seeking women to participate in the program and fundraising for it,  Honor Flight Chicago will be executing the trip. 

John Ptak, president of Honor Flight Chicago, said that while the nonprofit has brought more than 8,700 veterans to D.C., fewer than 200 of the participants have been women. 

“As a proud father to two daughters, it’s important that they understand that they should take a back seat to no one,” said Ptak “Operation HerStory is really dear to my heart in teaching them that lesson, that their contributions — just like those women who proudly have served our country — should be recognized, to the same extent that anyone else who wears that uniform should be.”

Other partners of the program include Illinois Joining Forces, Illinois Daughters of the American Revolution and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, among others. 

Though the flight intends to celebrate women who served in the past, it paves the way for women serving now.

“It’s empowering,” said Lawanda Nelson, a master sergeant in the U.S. Army Reserve. “I look forward to when it is my turn to get to be on the honor flights.”

“As a first generation here and coming from a Mexican culture, it’s nice to see there’s a lot of women empowerment — that they’re recognizing us,” said Sgt. Maribel Meraz, also in the army’s reserves. 

Narsete said she doesn’t know what’s next for Operation HerStory after the women return. But she hopes that the trip will help the veterans to accept the honor and recognition they deserve. 

“Isn’t it time for women to step up out of the shadows?” Narsete said. 

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