NEW WINDSOR—Honor Flight #11 landed at Stewart International Airport on April 2 after an event-filled day for 54 lucky veterans in Washington D.C. An estimated 500 well-wishers roared “USA!” as vets of World War II and the Korean conflict passed through the terminal.
Shirley Davis was in the crowd to welcome back her husband William. Stewart carries good memories for the couple. “I met him at Stewart field,” she said. Davis fought in the Korean War and his wife said he was excited about the flight.
Dawn Prosser’s husband, a Navy veteran, acted as a guardian—one of the volunteers who assist the veterans in making the Honor Flight—for Andrew Cabella, who now lives at Valley View Nursing Home. “He’s a very sweet man,” Dawn said of Cabella. She said these vets are a “dying breed. It’s awesome that they can see and understand how much people appreciate what they did for our country.”
Bobby Myers said her husband Bill had been considering the flight “for quite a while.” An Army Air Corps vet, Bill will turn 90 next month, his wife said. “He’s been putting it off and putting it off.”
A family friend, Robert Adair, volunteered to be Bill’s guardian. Adair’s wife Noreen said her husband ensured that Bill had transportation and had all his paperwork. Bobby and Noreen held a long welcome home banner for the returning vet.
Ann Zaconne, wife of Army vet Romeo, said her husband had only ridden on a plane two times before the flight. She and her husband had visited the memorials when they were younger but this time was special. “He did enjoy himself because he called me a few times and he let me know ‘we were here’, ‘we were there.'”
Just There to Support
Many in the crowd were not there for any vet but wanted to cheer them all. Several shook hands with the vets as they left the terminal and thanked them for their service. Stephen said he was here today “just to show support for the troops. I think it’s a big deal in this country,” who arrived with his wife and four-year-old son.
Carol Holbert came from Montgomery with her daughter and granddaughter. “I’m just so excited to be here. It’s the first time that I have been able to be here and I can’t wait to be able to see the vets. I think it’s the most fantastic program.” She said the event is great for younger Americans who don’t remember WWII or the Korean conflict.
Art Terwilliger was somewhat tearful greeting the returning vets. He made the trip with his wife’s uncle in October just before the vet passed away. “It was a wonderful experience. I was honored to take him. He talked about it every day.”
Local residents and groups had their own way of greeting the vets. Boy Scout Troop 28 from New Windsor acted as an honor guard at the gate as the vets entered. Scoutmaster Edwin Howard said this was the troop’s second outing. “We want to show our pride that they fought for our country,” he said.
Two young men gave the vets special gifts as they left for home. Brothers Michael and Matt Conklin gave each vet a handmade blanket. The vets accepted with happy surprise. About four years ago the brothers started making twist tie blankets and completed 100 the first year. With the help of Deerpark Town Clerk Flo Santini, various organizations donated more.
Manhattan College bagpiper Kathleen O’Hara had a special role in the day’s activities. she played with the Hudson Valley Regional Pipes and Drum unit for the sendoff and accompanied the vets on the flight. She played her pipes at some of the memorials.
The returning vets were stunned by the reception. Horace Hart Jr, Greenwood Lake said, “Unbelievable. I had never expected anything quite as good and as great as it was for the veterans here.” He said he was moved by “all the people that turned up to cheer us on.”
Carmine Montalbano of Middletown said a highlight was the Korean War memorial. He said his outfit was among those that helped to dedicate the memorial at its unveiling.
Executive Director Beth Vought said in an email that the Honor Flights began in 2004 when the WWII memorial opened to the public. The Hudson Valley Honor Flight “hub” began in 2011 with its first flight in June, 2012. A nonprofit, the local Honor Flights does all its own fundraising.
Vets take the flight for free, according to Vought. “We provide an opportunity for people to say ‘Thank You!!’ And to let these heroes know that they will never be forgotten.”
ShopRite underwrites the flights that go out of Stewart. At the sendoff, ShopRite presented the Honor Flight organization with a check for $100,000.
“There is the most incredible feeling of patriotism and respect. It makes people feel good just to participate in a Send-Off Ceremony or a Welcome Home Rally,” Vought said.
Radio personality Taylor Sterling of WTBQ reported that the sendoff ceremony “was thunderous.” Airport manager Ed Harrison and Senator Larkin were on hand to thank “the two hundred-plus Viet Nam vets on motorcycles leading the buses. Streets were lined with people waving the American flag, a military band was playing, and every serviceman was thanked or their service.”
Vought said the vets are treated like royalty. They have a chance to share their stories. She said the community has two ways to support Honor Flights: there is an ongoing effort to locate vets who would be interested and donations are always appreciated.
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