By Kristin Boza
Illinois’ first all-female veterans flight to Washington D.C. takes off on Weds., Oct. 6, featuring more than 100 women who served during WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam era.
Organized by Operation HerStory, this historic event also includes Col. Jennifer N. Pritzker, IL ARNG (Retired), Cold War era veteran and Founder & Chair of the Pritzker Military Foundation and the Pritzker Military Museum & Library,, as well as Major Gen. John Borling, Major Gen. Peter K. Sullivan, and Brigadier Gen. Patricia Wallace, and numerous representatives of leading veterans’ organizations.
Beverly/Morgan Park resident Lis Pennix is the vice chair of Operation HerStory. She is organizing the event along with the organization’s founder, Master Sgt. Ginny Narsete, US Air Force (Retired), a Vietnam veteran and former Chief of Staff for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
According to Operation HerStory, this is a milestone initiative dedicated to highlighting the vital contributions of women in the military. The veterans will visit the national war memorials built in their honor, including the Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.
According to the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs, there are approximately 7,200 women veterans in Illinois who served between 1940 and 1975; among these, it’s estimated that fewer than three percent have flown to Washington, D.C. on an Illinois Honor Flight.
More than 80 donors have helped to fund the flight, the largest grant awarded by the Pritzker Military Foundation, according to Narsete. Twenty partners helped Operation HerStory reach out to their members to recruit these women veterans for the Honor Flight.
“We are partnering with Honor Flight Chicago to give these women veterans the same experience that regular Honor Flight passengers get, but with highlights in recognition of their service as women during a time when they were not afforded equal visibility, pay, participation, rights, accolades, and treatment for their critical work,” said Pennix, who is a post-9/11 veteran of the US Navy. “We’re passionate about highlighting women in service and post service, because they tend to serve their time and disappear back into the woodwork of society. In fact, many senior women veterans too often don’t recognize the significance of their military service or view themselves to be as deserving as their male counterparts. Some have said they willingly relinquished their earned spots on veterans’ flights to ensure a man would have the opportunity to receive his day of honor. This flight aims to change that.”
Pennix and Narsete met while working for the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs; Pennix was the department’s General Counsel at the time. Their quest to make women veterans visible began after they left their positions and decided to dedicate their time to making sure the critical services and contributions of women veterans are seen by all.
“Women who served in Ginny’s era had jobs like secretary, payroll administrator, and other jobs that are critical behind-the-scenes duties,” Pennix said. “Making sure people get paid and get their mail and get connected to the front lines are all critical services. We want to honor the truths of our history and honor the women who served in a challenging time for women. They served quietly and did what they were asked.”
“Many women have called us crying and can’t believe this Honor Flight is happening for them; they’re so touched,” Narsete said. “I told them, ‘you are just as important as a man in combat.’”
Operation HerStory is also working on gathering oral histories of women in service, in conjunction with the Pritzker Military Museum & Library. If you know of a female service member who wants to share her story, please help them reach out to PritzkerMilitary.org.