LENA, Ill. - Veterans organizations in Northwest Illinois have been working for the last year on an ambitious project to bring a retired F-4 fighter jet to town to create an aerial combat memorial.
The biggest obstacle that planners have faced was getting the aircraft from New Mexico to Lena.
"The phone rang and the guy said, 'We've got a window of opportunity in our schedule. How would you like to have your aircraft here by the end of the month?'" said Terry Yount, president of the memorial committee. "So, I've been on cloud nine ever since."
Word that the F-4E Phantom II jet will soon start its journey from Alamogordo, New Mexico, to Lena, Illinois spread fast.
Vice President Robert Bing Wells remembered, "He said, 'Are you sitting down?' I said 'no, but I can!' He said, 'You might want to because,' he said, 'Worldwide Aircraft Recovery would like to move the aircraft as soon as possible."
That aircraft will be the centerpiece of the combat memorial, to be located across the street from the American Legion Hall on Main Street.
The jet has already been moved once, from Holloman Air Force Base in New Mexico, to the Alamagordo White Sands Municipal Airport. That was a distance of about six miles.
The next journey is closer to 1,300 miles.
"They will be disassembling it, taking the wings and the fuselage apart, loading them onto two separate low boys. And, there will be a convoy, probably a minimum of six trucks, hauling it from New Mexico to Lena," Yount said.
If all goes as planned, the plane should be arriving in Lena around the end of January.
When it does, organizers of the memorial are hoping for a big welcome home from the community.
"They, hopefully, will be lining the highway as we come in, cheering and waving," Yount said. "Just make a big spectacle out of it, because it's not something that happens everyday."
The F-4 was flown by three branches of service over the years: Navy, Air Force and Marines, making it the perfect focal point of the memorial.
"I think, when younger folks can see that and get some hint of the sacrifice that went into the service, there's maybe a little greater appreciation," Wells said.
Moving the jet has used a third of the group's anticipated budget. If you'd like to help fund the project's completion, contact the group through their Facebook page.
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