Local Veterans Honored in Photography Exhibit at O’Hare, Midway Airports

Between getting through security, changing gates and chasing kids, airports can be busy places.

But you may want to build in a little more travel time the next time you visit Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport or Midway International Airport to enjoy an art exhibition.

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“American Heroes: Portraits of Service” is a show from photographer Thomas Sanders, who has made it his life’s mission to share the stories of veterans across the country.

Featured on a wall of portraits are two local veterans: 101-year-old WWII veteran Myron Petrakis and Korean War veteran Richard Nelson.

“Those things bring back memories, sad memories,” Petrakis said. “I still remember them all these years. Then to be picked to go to O’Hare was a great honor.”

“They talk about us as the veterans of the second World War and the Korean War and the other one — but he has more than just service,” Nelson said of Petrakis. “You ought to look at the awards and plaques he has.”

“I think everyone in the United States is somehow connected or related to a veteran,” Sanders said. “What’s really interesting about this project is sometimes some of these veterans never even told these stories to their kids.”

It’s through a partnership with Belmont Village Senior Living that Sanders connected with veterans like Petrakis and Nelson across the globe.

“I photographed Myron, and then we made this short two-minute film on him and his war experience,” Sanders said. “It’s still so tragic. Still at 100 years old, he still has trauma.”

It wasn’t until a partnership with the Chicago Department of Aviation that Sanders’ portraits were able to be displayed at Midway and O’Hare airports.

“What’s so great about the exhibitions at Chicago Midway and O’Hare is that there’s just people that are traveling and walking through the hallways, and here’s real American living history that they can learn about,” Sanders said. 

“The biggest longevity tips I’ve learned is that you need a lot of sleep, you need exercise, and you need to socialize,” Sanders said. “I think a lot of people think that if you get dementia or Alzheimer’s, its genetic. But that’s actually a very, very small percentage of individuals that get dementia or Alzheimer’s — so there’s a lot of things you can do in your own environment to age well. And then in terms of any sort of advice with veterans, I just think it’s really important that if you see a veteran out and about — no matter what their age is — that you go up to them and just tell them, ‘Thank you for your service.’ Because I do think they deeply appreciate that.”

“American Heroes: Portraits of Service” is on display at both O’Hare and Midway airports.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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