By Dermot Connolly
Palos Heights City Council meetings are often routine affairs, with little or no excitement. But the Sept. 1 meeting was different, with the room erupting in applause for Ald. Jerry McGovern (4th), a Marine veteran of the Vietnam War, when he was presented with a sign indicating he is in line for an Honor Flight to Washington.
The lawn sign was presented by John Hanley, who chairs the city’s Beautification Committee and is a volunteer photographer for Honor Flight Chicago, a non-profit organization that flies veterans from World War II, Korea and now Vietnam, to Washington for daylong tours of war memorials and other sites.
“Honor Flight Chicago took a hiatus this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and I would like to honor one of our veterans today with a sign for his front yard. Thank you for your service,” said Hanley, unwrapping the sign for McGovern, who seemed stunned by the honor and the standing ovation that followed.
McGovern is scheduled to be on the first Honor Flight out of Midway Airport when they resume in 2021.
“I apologize to your wife. I was supposed to present it at your house,” said Hanley. “Well, my wife knows more than me because I didn’t know anything about it,” said McGovern.
The meeting went on, for a short time, before McGovern asked to speak.
“Now that I have caught my breath, I just want to say thank you. I appreciate this so much. I am on the list and three of my friends are on the list to go with me. My own father-in-law was on an Honor Flight, so this means so much,” said McGovern, who served in Vietnam from 1966 to 1967.
“A little history,” said Ald. Jack Clifford (2nd),” who was sitting beside him. “He was 19 when he went to Vietnam, and he is a Purple Heart recipient,” Clifford continued, noting that McGovern was injured three times during his time there.
Clifford then held up his phone to show a photo of McGovern taken while he was on patrol near the Demilitarized Zone in Vietnam, which appeared on the cover of Life Magazine on Oct. 28, 1966.
“The photographer who took that picture was killed in Vietnam,” said McGovern.
In addition to his injuries, while in Vietnam McGovern was exposed to the disease-causing herbicide Agent Orange, and contracted malaria as well.
He went on to a career in the Chicago Police Department for more than 30 years.
“I’m glad I went over there when I was 19, because I wouldn’t like to do it when I was older,” said McGovern. “I still go back to my alma mater, Mt. Carmel High School, to give a presentation every year. I have been to Mother McAuley High School, too.”
“This really is an honor I wasn’t expecting,” said McGovern, still beaming after the meeting.