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Heroes' sendoff at O'Hare for 3 World War II veterans headed to France for D-Day anniversary

World War II veterans headed to France for 80th anniversary of D-Day
World War II veterans headed to France for 80th anniversary of D-Day 02:48

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For just a moment Monday night, the hustle at O'Hare International Airport came to a complete stop – to honor three World War II veterans who are riding a different kind of tank these days.

U.S. Army Pfc. Sydney Levit, Army Cpl. John Hodges, and Navy PO2 Tony Malin were off to France Monday night in honor of the 80th anniversary of D-Day and the Battle of Normandy – the June 6 military campaign that led to the liberation of northwest Europe from the Nazis.

"After 80 years, it's beyond my dreams," said Levit. "It's just unreal."

"People still have a place in their heart for the military," said Hodges.

The entire United Airlines flight crew headed to Paris are also veterans. For the World War II vets onboard the flight, returning to Normandy came with a mix of emotions.

"I'm the only lasting veteran in my squad when I was in the service," said Levit. "It's a little bit touchy."

"I'm so happy to be here, but all the brothers that were killed and maimed," said Hodges.

Malin was on the beach of Normandy 80 years ago – and said he knows this could be his final tour.

"Memories, memories," he said. "When they said to me, 'Tony, you want to go back to Normandy? and I said, 'Yeah, I'll go back,' not thinking it was going to be this.'"

Malin's daughter, Nancy Ashman, was also set to board the flight.

"My dad is fearless. He is still fearless," Ashman said. "I felt so good that these veterans were being honored."

As the heroes of the Greatest Generation are remembered and honored for their service and sacrifice, true to form, they in turn are grateful for the recognition.

"It's a wonderful, wonderful world," Levit said. "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

The veterans will have a busy itinerary in France. On Thursday, will attend a D-Day commemorative event at Normandy American Cemetery and a D-Day International Ceremony at Omaha Beach.

They will also visit the National Museum of the Battle of Normandy in Bayeux.

On Friday, the vets will visit the Cherbourg-Maupertus Airport – which the U.S. Army seized from the Nazis in June 1944 - with a certified French historian.

On Saturday, the veterans will head to Paris and attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe – including a wreath-laying and a relighting of the flame at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The veterans will return to the U.S. on Sunday.

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