A moving epilogue has been added to the memoirs of more than 4,600 World War II veterans, thanks to the efforts of LaGrange Park volunteer Tracey Rouso.
Rouso was honored April 17 in La Grange with the Unsung Heroine Award presented by Cook County Board member Jeffrey Tobolski, D-16th of McCook.
“Tracey got the younger generation interested in the people who fought in a war that happened decades before they were born,” said Charlene Vickery, the La Grange resident who nominated Rouso. “Students got involved by fundraising and cheering on the veterans as they came home at the airport. She inspired our teens to take action.”
The nomination was based in part on a 2011 project Rouso spearheaded as coordinator of Honor Flight Chicago, in which students from Lyons Township High School and seven surrounding middle and elementary schools raised more than $70,000 to send 96 servicemen on the whirlwind one-day tour of the nation’s capital.
“The kids got so unbelievable fired up about it, and they’re still talking about it to this day,” said Peter Geddeis, LT student activities director.
Former Marine Stanley Horonzy, 90, of Brookfield was all smiles as he came to congratulate Rouso and recall his Honor Flight experience in 2011. The former custodian at Park Junior High School remembered the tumultuous welcome home veterans received at Midway Airport.
“I was the first one off the plane, and all the firemen were in line. I’ve never seen anything like that,” Horonzy said. “Then kids from my school were there, and they all called out ‘Hey, Stanley.’”
Rouso said she wanted to become involved with the program after visiting the World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. and seeing 90 veterans from Ohio on an Honor Flight tour. She left her job as a lifestyle coordinator at Plymouth Place Senior Living center to become a volunteer, putting in 25 to 30 hours a week.
“I already had a connection with the elderly, and I felt a real calling to take on Honor Flight,” she said.
The rewards of serving as coordinator have been numerous, Rouso said, while sandwiching in a busy family life with her husband, Dean, and their two daughters.
“There’s nothing like it. The veterans and their families have become part of my family,” she said. “They’re the Greatest Generation, and that connection with them is the payoff for me.”
Rouso coordinated Honor Flight Chicago for five years. Although she plans to take a less active role with the Chicago chapter, she urges others to continue the mission, because time for recognition is running out. She will be escorting 93 veterans on a flight May 7.
“The average age of the guys on a flight is 90. We have about 15,000 World War II veterans in the Chicago area, the largest hub in the nation,” she said. “Their day of honor is closing in, and time is of the essence.”