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95-year-old Hoosier Merchant Marine excited for Indy Honor Flight

In the two-plus years since Indy Honor Flight went up in the air, 11 veterans who were supposed to participate have died.

PLAINFIELD, Ind. — For the first time since 2019, a beloved program honoring Hoosier heroes will get back in the air.

Indy Honor Flight resumes this weekend, after a long pandemic delay, including the public homecoming celebration, upon veterans' return to Indiana. 

Dozens of veterans will board a plane for Washington, D.C. on Saturday to see their war memorials, in person. Jerome Greenberg is one of them.

It's been seven decades since cargo ships carried crucial supplies for battle and dedicated Merchant Marines like Greenberg.

Jerry, as he smiled and said he likes to be called, is a spirited and humble veteran who turns 96 in September.

He volunteered for war as a teenager.

"When I was 17 years old, that was the thing," Greenberg said. "Go! Volunteer for something. I saw a sign: 'We want you!' So I went into the Merchant Marines at 17 years old from Omaha, Nebraska."

RELATED: After pandemic pause, Indy Honor Flights set to resume

Greenberg spent 10 years on the seas serving in World War II and Korea, surviving kamikaze strikes and typhoons.

"We survived that and we went in and got unloaded and that was it. That was just part of a day's work," Greenberg said. "I'm 17, 18 years old! Who knew any better?! This was life!"

Civilian Merchant Mariners were the unsung heroes of World War II, suffering the highest casualty rate — percentage wise — of any branch of service. Still, they were overlooked as combat veterans for years.

"The war was over in 1945. We were not recognized until 1988! I was already 62 years old before I was recognized as a veteran," Greenberg said.

It's why being recognized now, with Indy Honor Flight, is so special.

Greenberg is one of 86 veterans finally traveling to the nation's capital to see the memorials built in their honor.

A pandemic pause grounded the program for more than two years.

In that time, 11 veterans who were supposed to participate passed away. Now, the trips will get back in the air, full of humble heroes like Greenberg. His granddaughter found the program and signed him up.

"Saturday is a big trip, yes," Greenberg said.

"It's something we've been waiting and waiting and waiting for," said Indy Honor Flight Chairman Dale True. "We feel like at this point, with the precautions that we've taken, we're able to take this high-risk group of folks safely and that's what we've been waiting on."

Greenberg said make no mistake, he's not going for himself, but rather as an ambassador for the Merchant Marines. 

He's only the second Merchant Mariner to go on an Indy Honor flight in 33 such journeys.

"People don't know who we are! Merchant Marine? Aha! I'm going! I have a Merchant Marine jacket. I got a Merchant Marine hat! And I'm going to go as a maritime person," Greenberg said enthusiastically. "I am excited to be able to represent the Merchant Marines with a bunch of other veterans and let it be known that we're out there."

"For a WWII-era [veteran] to have survived this time and to have served the way he served is very rare. So we're very excited we were able to find him and get him signed up," True said.

True is especially excited for a return to the memorable moments after the group gets back from Washington, where crowds gather to public thank the Hoosier heroes.

"For us to be able to recognize them and to provide them a homecoming celebration that says, 'Hey we love you, thank you for your service, welcome home,' it's a big deal," True said. "We're very excited about it. We'd love to see that gymnasium just filled to the rafters."

Saturday's homecoming celebration will be held at Decatur Central High School on Kentucky Avenue.

Doors open at 7:30 p.m. to help welcome the veterans home. They're expected to arrive from the airport around 8:15 p.m.

RELATED: Hundreds welcome home Indy's 31st Honor Flight

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