‘Honor’ Is The Operative Word

The family of Ronald Joseph Hayes of Bethpage was on hand as the deceased veteran was recognized via the Flags of Our Heroes part of the Honor Flight program. Hayes’ portrait was taken to the capital on the Honor Flight and posed before the Vietnam War Memorial. In the background is Honor Flight board member and emcee Jeff Rosenking. (Photos by Frank Rizzo)

Honor Flight gives veterans a chance to visit war memorials

The premise of Honor Flight is simple: provide a no-cost, one-day trip to Washington, DC, for veterans of WWII, Korea and Vietnam to visit the various war memorials.

WWII veteran George Bici, 95, of Garden City, said he cried when he saw the WWII Memorial for the first time, as it brought back memories of all my friends that were killed. He saw the memorial as part of the Honor Flight back in June.

Honor Flight Long Island (HFLI) is the local chapter of the national organization that has flown more than 245,000 veterans to the capital. The latest trip it sponsored took place in June, and as usual, flew from Islip MacArthur Airport to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Earlier this month, the 38 veterans gathered at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale to be recognized.

According to HFLI President Bill Jones, a 1972 graduate of West Point and U.S. Army veteran, “This special flight included 37 Vietnam-era veterans who received long overdue recognition and thanks for their military service. They were accompanied on this flight by one elder comrade, a WWII veteran of the ‘Greatest Generation.’ What this flight represented was a ‘Big Hug’ to all our veterans from Honor Flight, their families and supporters who make such flights possible.”

The Guardinas are volunteers who accompany the veterans on the flights and pay out of pocket. Thanks to Honor Flight, the veterans travel for free.

HFLI board member Jeff Rosenking served as emcee for the event, in which every veteran who made the trip was gifted a Tribute Journal commemorating the day in pictures. Rosenking read out the biographies that the veterans provided. Some were one sentence long and some ran to multiple pages.

Suffolk County Veterans Service Agency Director Thomas Ronayne, a Navy veteran, apologized for the absence of his boss, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, an Army veteran, as well as Ralph Esposito, head of the Nassau County Veterans Service Agency.

He noted that the two Long Island counties represented one of the largest concentrations of veteran populations in the United States. He addressed the veterans sitting on either side of him, stating that the country could never repay the debt it owed them and offered his gratitude and thanks.

Robert Grisnick, a member of the Honor Flight Board of Directors, took part in the June Honor Flight.

“While the majority of us do come home intact, physically and psychologically and emotionally, many of our comrades come home and we bring our wars home with us…and the truth is that our service lives within us for the rest of our lives,” Ronayne said.

He concluded, “Gatherings like this, in places like this, for reasons like this are just incredibly important things,” going on encourage attendees to approach one of the veterans—especially ones they didn’t know—and give them a handshake and thank them.”

This happy veteran smiles for his relatives after receiving a photographic journal of his Honor Flight experience.

Nassau County Legislator Tom McKevitt (R–East Meadow) recalled visiting a replica of the Vietnam War Memorial Wall erected in Eisenhower Park. He watched as a visitor approached a panel, touched it, stepped back and saluted. He did this a dozen times and the legislator realized this veterans was saluting all the men he served with who did not come home.

Rosenking said that the honor flight veterans asked “How did you make this thing work? How did you get all these things together? How did you get the timing so right?” and went on to detail the number of people it took to put a flight together. He paid special thanks to the “guardians” who accompanied each vet on the trip and paid out of pocket for the flight.

Louis DiLeo gave a rousing version of “God Bless America.”

He mentioned the pipe and drums who greeted the returning flight, the fire departments who supplied the huge flags, the highs schools, including Garden City and Bethpage, who wrote letters to the veterans, the Boy and Girl Scouts, the many supporters, including JPMorgan Chase and Citibank, and the Farmingdale Starbucks who provided the free coffee at the event. He also recognized American Airpower Museum founder Jeff Clyman, his wife Jackie and museum director Larry Starr.

Two deceased veterans were honored via Honor Flight’s Flags of Our Heroes program, in which families provide a photo and it is taken on a flight and placed in front of the appropriate memorial and photographed. The photo is then presented to the families along with a formal certificate as the veterans’ participation is honored in spirit.

Veterans stood as they heard their service branch song.

At the recent ceremony, the families of Vietnam War veterans Ronald Joseph Hayes of Bethpage and Conrad Spears of East Meadow came up to pose with their loved ones’ portraits and listen to Rosenking recite their biographies.

State Senator John Brooks (D–Seaford), who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee and is a Navy veteran, also spoke. He noted how little respect Vietnam veterans received when they returned from that unpopular war. He asserted that they served honorably and with dignity, but were victims of politicians’ misguided policies.

Lee Dash conducts the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Band.

“These guys are absolute heroes. We can never make up to them how we treated them, but no one could have served this nation better,” Brooks concluded.

Rosenking said that if there were mistakes in the journals, they would be fixed. Someone called out, “I look old. Can you make me look younger?” to laughter and the emcee replied, “We don’t do miracles, but we’ll try.”

Emcee Jeff Rosenking greets a member of the family of the late Conrad Spears, whose portrait is partially viisble in the background.

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Band, under conductor Lee Dash, played a medley known as the “Armed Forces Salute,” which features five official theme songs of the U.S. Armed Forces: Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard. Principal trumpeter Louis DiLeo gave a rousing version of “God Bless America” to conclude the proceedings.

The next flight is scheduled for Sept. 23 and will feature Korean War veterans. Visit www.honorflightlongisland.org for more information on applying for a future flight and supporting HFLI.

The veterans salute during the ceremony.

The Honored

The following were on the June Honor Flight. Except for George Bici, all were Vietnam War-ear veterans. Bici served in WWII:

Bergeron, Howard, Hicksville

Bergold, Edward, Seaford

Bici, George, Garden City

Bonom, Steven, North Massapequa

Buckley, John, Farmingdale

Carannante, Louis, East Meadow

Chiappone, Robert, East Meadow

Contorno, Anthony, North Massapequa

Cromwell, Wayne, Levittown

Cunningham, Gary, Westhampton

Edwards, Arturo, Farmingdale

Esposito, John, Islip

Fahrenholz, Thomas, Plainview

Glick, Gary, Bellmore

Grisnik, Robert, Southampton

Hettiger, Carl, East Hampton

Hildenbrand, Robert, Hicksville

Johnson, Angus, Centereach

Johnson, Andrew, Levittown

Kinney, Jeffrey, Ridge

Kinney, Edmund, West Islip

Kostynick, John, Bay Shore

Menechino, John, Wantagh

Morreale, Vincent, East Meadow

Mundy, Paul, Merrick

Nevor, Kenneth, Islip

Newman, William, North Bellmore

Okula, Paul, Center Moriches

Poisella Jr., James, Plainview

Ratnoff, Steven, Bellmore

Rezin, John, West Babylon

Roberts, Michael, Levittown

Schneider, Barry, Coram

Schneider, John, Hempstead

Weitz, Arnold, Plainview

White, James, Plainview

Winter, Richard, Lynbrook

Yeschin, Arnold, Woodbury

Frank Rizzo
Frank Rizzo is a journalist at Anton Media Group. With decades of experience in the industry, he is exceptionally equipped to cover local politics, business and other topics that matter to readers.

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