Henry Webb is a proud veteran of World War II. As of September, Henry, who will be turning 90 this December, had still never been to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Luckily for Henry, he lives at Autumn Green at Midway Village, where Kim Hernandez, who one resident described as “one of the greatest human beings on the face of the Earth,” is Resident Program Coordinator.
Kim had contacted the Honor Flight Network, a non-profit that transports veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit their memorials, about the possibility of helping one of the four World War II veterans in the community make the trip. An Honor Flight Network representative visited Auburn Green at Midway Village, and Henry signed up.
“We may have one more resident who might be going,” Kim said. “Henry is our first, but we are trying to get other veterans involved.”
Henry arrived in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 2, excited to explore the nation’s capital and get to know his fellow veterans in the process.
But Henry’s timing couldn’t have been worse.
“We couldn’t get into places,” Henry said. “They were closed. It was restricted.”
Henry and the rest of his group of 91 veterans had made the trip in the midst of the U.S. government shutdown, on to find the memorials barricaded.
The veterans, as you might expect, were not turned away without a fight.
“There was a group of veterans that made a push,” Henry said. “I don’t know who did the negotiating, but we were able to get into the World War II Memorial after some difficulty.”
Even though there was no water in the memorial’s great fountain, Henry called it “a very rewarding experience.” He and other veterans were also able to see the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier after getting special permission.
“They could not keep us out of that,” Henry said. “It’s something I’ll remember as long as I live.”
Henry also got a chance to meet and shake hands with U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3).
After graduating from signalman service school in Great Lakes, Illinois, Henry served as a seaman second-class in an all-black Naval unit stationed along the northwest coast of the U.S. during World War II.
“There were 91 of us that went [to Washington, D.C.], and I was the only one who was black,” Henry said. There were three women in the group of veterans as well.
Upon his return to Chicago, Henry was welcomed with a warm reception from his friends and family. His wife, Bertha, whom he met and married at Autumn Green two years earlier, was there, as were his Wii bowling teammates, and local children who had made posters with Henry’s picture.
Henry was happy to be home, but he has not ruled out another visit to Washington.
“If it goes again, I would like to go again now that the government is functioning,” Henry said.