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.
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.”
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
“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.”
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 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