At the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, World War II and Korean War veterans and guardians reconnected recently after they had a chance to fly down to Washington D.C. together in September to see the veteran memorials. The flight and reunion were both hosted by Honor Flight Long Island, a hub of Honor Flight, which provides this opportunity twice a year.
“It’s been in existence now for 12 years,” said Bill Jones, president of Honor Flight Long Island. “We have taken over 1,650 veterans to Washington over that period of time.”
The veterans took the flight out of MacArthur Airport and made their way down to D.C. where they first visited the World War II Memorial that was dedicated in 2004. They later visited the Korean War Memorial, which was established in 1995, and then participated in the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery. They also stopped by the Air Force Memorial, which opened in 2006.
“We have dinner at the fort and then travel back home and arrive back at around 10 o’clock at night,” said Jones. “Unbelievably, there are hundreds of Long Islanders there to greet these heroes as they return home. It surprises them because they think their day is pretty much over. They are amazed that people are there to welcome them back.”
Initially, Honor Flight served the purpose of bringing just World War II veterans down to D.C., since the World War II memorial was dedicated just a year prior to the organization’s formation. Over the years, as it grew to 130 hubs, they began bringing Korean War and Vietnam War veterans, among others, down to Washington.
“For those who served in the world war, that was an impactful episode in their lives,” said Jones. “They came home, they got a job, they raised their family and they really left the war behind. This [experience] gave them a chance to go back and remember. They are all happy they served their country. They made lasting friendships out of those experiences. This gives them an opportunity to talk with their family members about the stories they never brought up in the past.”
The November reunion gave veterans, as well as the guardians who came with them, a chance to discuss the adventure they went on in September. The veterans were also gifted personalized tribute photo journals of the day they flew down there.
“They met each other on the flight, and this gives them an opportunity to see each other again,” said Jones. “And now they get this record of their day that they can keep out on the table and show their friends and neighbors. It becomes a part of the family heirloom as well. It’s one of the most impactful day of their lives.”
One of the highlights of the reunion was when Nassau County Executive Laura Curran presented a citation to World War II veteran Thomas McTigue in honor of his brother, John McTigue, who died in combat during World War II. John was shot down while serving, and was considered MIA for more than 70 years until early September when the U.S. Department of Defense contacted Thomas and told him that they have identified his brother’s remains.
“Even 75 years later, it means a heck of a lot to a family member,” said Jones. “It brings closure to know. It just so happened that he laid his brother to rest two weeks [prior to the reunion]. We felt like we wanted to recognize him, tell the crowd about his story and give him an opportunity to say some things about his brother.”
Honor Flight Long Island is thankful to the American Airpower Museum as, said Jones, it has been a perfect spot to hold the reunion with the war planes and World War II memorabilia throughout the building.
The organization now turns its attention to May 2, when they will take another group of veterans, mostly Korean War veterans, down to the memorials in D.C. Any World War II, Korean and Vietnam War veterans interested in the flight, as well as any guardians who are interested in helping the veterans in their trip, can visit www.honorflightlongisland.org and fill out the application.