Add To Favorites

TAKING FLIGHT: Retired teacher honored for work with veterans

Clinton Herald - 10/5/2022

Oct. 3—FULTON, Ill. — The Whiteside County Honor Flight Committee recently honored former Committee Officer Virginia Ray, presenting her with a plaque recognizing her for more than a decade of devotion to the group's objective that enables veterans to fly to Washington, D.C. in salute of their service.

No other member of the committee has ever received this recognition.

"I never expected to be affiliated with such a wonderful program," Ray said.

As one of the original members of the committee, more than 10 years ago Virginia received a call asking her to go to a meeting. She didn't really know what it was about, but because she respected the leader who had asked her, she went anyway. Once she and the others invited learned about the recently created Whiteside County Honor Flight Committee, she says, "We were addicted."

Ray, a longtime Fulton teacher, was raised in Chicago then went on to graduate from Northern Illinois State Teachers College in DeKalb, which has since become Northern Illinois University. In search of somewhere that would be just the right fit for her, her teaching career took her from Sterling, Illinois to Gary, Indiana and back to Illinois, where she tried out a few more towns in which to teach.

In Ashton, Illinois, Virginia met Ben Ray, a coach within the school district there, to whom she became engaged a month later and married in November 1961. Together, they moved to Fulton, just in time for the Great Flood of 1965. Virginia says she and Ben saw how the people in the community worked together through the flood and agreed, "This is the place to call home."

Ben became a principal within Fulton's school district, while Virginia taught two years in Camanche and the next 25 in the River Bend School District, which includes Fulton, teaching grades two through eight.

Virginia retired in 1995. With a spirited personality, she's been involved with the Whiteside Retired Teachers Association, the Illinois Retired Teachers Association, the Clinton Parkinson's Support Group, the Whiteside County Central Committee of Democrats, the Clinton Board of Realtors, and others, including the Whiteside County Honor Flight Committee.

Virginia's initial efforts for the committee included a talent show she organized that took place inside a high school auditorium in Sterling, Illinois. It raised a good amount of money, so she organized a second talent show. Funding for the committee since then has mostly been obtained from various kinds of donations. The committee has even received donations left to it in wills after supporters of the group died.

The original leaders of the committee are no longer living, leaving Virginia and about half a dozen other members to pursue the committee's goals.

"Whiteside County," she says, "for as agricultural and quiet as we are, really has a good strong active group with the Honor Flight."

In lieu of traditional advertising, the group is mostly known through word of mouth. Through regular conversations Virginia has throughout daily life, she'll learn that someone is a veteran and will supply them with an application for that veteran to be included on one of four flights per year facilitated by the Honor Flight Network.

Her late husband, Ben, was a veteran, himself, serving in the Army from 1952 to 1954 as a missile repairman in New Mexico. He died in 2013. Before his death, though, he went on an Honor Flight, and Virginia was able to accompany him as his guardian, even though it's been a long-standing rule of the Honor Flight Network that spouses normally cannot accompany a veteran for a variety of reasons.

It was the only one Virginia has ever been on, but she says it was an emotional, yet fun, experience.

"With my husband as my veteran, he did everything I told him to do," she laughs. "Everything was highly organized."

A typical Honor Flight itinerary begins with the arrival of guardians at QC International Airport at 5 a.m. and veterans at 5:30 a.m. The Quad Cities Hub is one of 131 hubs in 45 states that all independently work to support the mission of the Honor Flight Network.

Veterans are given a celebratory sendoff, during which volunteers cheer for them and wave American flags, before veterans and guardians board a non-stop charter to Washington, D.C. that departs at 7 a.m. Ben and Virginia's flight contained about 50 veterans and 50 guardians total.

In Washington, D.C., the Lincoln Memorial is the first stop at 1 p.m. The World War II Memorial follows, then a police escort brings them to Arlington National Cemetery.

"At an advanced age," Virginia says, "this was even more special."

A Women's Memorial can also be viewed at that time and the Changing of the Guard at 5 p.m. as well. Last is a visit to the Air Force Memorial and Pentagon before the flight home departs at 7:10 p.m. to land at 10 p.m.

"It was very nice to have so much in common with the other people," Virginia says, "whether I was a veteran or whether I was a guardian."

In fact, as a known member of the Whiteside County Honor Flight Committee, Virginia was once approached by a World War II veteran who'd been on a flight and told her that the trip had allowed him to talk with another veteran about things that he wasn't ever able to speak about with anyone else.

According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, in 2021, only 240,329, or 1.5 percent, of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still living.

"We found out that when we can get them together with their brothers, they could talk about something that they wanted to talk about for years and finally found the right ears to speak into," she said.

Not all veterans seek the opportunity to talk about their experiences in war. Over the years, Virginia has encountered a few who refused to even accept an application, preferring to not allow the thoughts of their time in service to be brought to mind. She's approached these instances with understanding that comes from learning about what they, particularly in WWII, endured and, as she refers to it, "putting yourself in their boots."

Still, Virginia is proud to have the ability to help veterans experience the trips to Washington D.C.'s monuments in their honor.

As of Jan. 1, Virginia entered semi-retirement from the committee. She's now a member rather than an officer and doesn't attend quite as many meetings as she used to, saying she's served her time and that it's time to let others learn. Regardless, as the last line of the plaque given to Virginia reads: "Her Dedication For Over a Decade Makes Her a Patriot."

To obtain an application or to make a donation to the Honor Flight Network, visit or


(c)2022 the Clinton Herald (Clinton, Iowa)

Visit the Clinton Herald (Clinton, Iowa) at

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.