Hundreds of people stood on both sides of the cordoned-off route waving American flags and holding posters above their heads. A band played military marches that echoed throughout Midway Airport's terminal. The whole scene was reminiscent of a parade route.
The crowd was gathered on Aug. 24 to welcome home veterans of World War II who had been flown to Washington, D.C., for the day by Honor Flight Chicago. The organization arranges free trips for veterans of World War II to view the monuments and to be recognized for their service.
Standing in the crowd was the family of Palos Hills resident Lewis Pazoles. His wife, Katherine, and her grandchildren, Karissa Kouchis and Mike Rossi, were there with homemade signs on display. Lewis' sons Chris and Bill Pazoles stood eagerly anticipating their father's return. Grandson Nick Pazoles and his wife Heather were on hand as well.
"It has been building to this for so long," Katherine Pazoles said.
For years, Lewis Pazoles never talked about the war much. It wasn't until about five years ago that he started to open up about his experiences.
"It has kind of flipped a little," Chris Pazoles said. "He is eager to talk about this stuff without it upsetting other people and himself."
Lewis Pazoles finally made his way down the terminal, stopping to shake hands with the gathered masses. Somewhere along the way he ended up with a pink lipstick kiss on his cheek. He moves well for 85. It's probably the result of his exercise routine — he climbs 1,000 stair steps a day in his condo complex.
Lewis Pazoles says it was a long and emotional day, full of memories.
"I just had tears in my eyes, and the band was playing. It was really a fantastic way to end it," Pazoles said.
Lewis Pazoles was raised in Fon du Lac, Wis. In 1943, at the age of 18, he tried to enlist in the Navy and Air Force, but he was colorblind. So it was into the Army for the teenager. He became a corporal in a combat medic unit in the 83rd Infantry Division.
The memories of the war are still very much with him.
"I think about them and I think about the people who were there," Pazoles said.
Pazoles arrived on the shores of Omaha Beach days after D-Day. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and went on to receive a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
Shrapnel wounded him, but the injury kept him out of action for only three weeks. The soldier next to him wasn't as fortunate.
"When I got hit it wasn't that serious," Pazoles said. "But my buddy next to me had his arm blown off right below the shoulder."
It is those kind of graphic memories of war that unite the men who fought together those 65-plus years ago. It was having the chance to talk with his fellow veterans that made the trip even that much more special for Pazoles.
"At the airport, or when we were sitting on the plane or having lunch, we would talk with other veterans," Pazoles said. "We were all really proud to be there. It was just perfect."
After the war, Pazoles made his way to the South Side of Chicago where he co-owned a grocery store with his sister and her husband for several years. Legendary singer/songwriter Sam Cooke was his delivery man for a time.
Pazoles later went on to work for a produce distributor, managing the company's shipments. Ask Lewis Pazoles about his family, and he will detail every child and grandchild's career achievements. He is proud of them, and they are proud of him.
"I don't think people of our generation can understand what it was like for them," said Lewis' grandson Nick.
Lewis' son Bill said that when he was growing up, his father never talked much about the war. But as he grew older and Lewis opened up about that time, Bill began to realize the true nature of Lewis' sacrifice.
"The things that we have now are all because of what he and those other men did," Bill Pazoles said. "You just don't appreciate it until you hear those stories. He was 19 when he went over there. He and all of those men made that sacrifice."