Northeast Times

'It's the best trip I've ever been on'

Vet­er­ans and their “guard­i­ans” pose in front of the World War II Me­mori­al. (Tom War­ing)

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The folks at Hon­or Flight sure know how to treat our mil­it­ary vet­er­ans.

Cit­ing stat­ist­ics show­ing that about 900 World War II vet­er­ans die each day, Hon­or Flight seeks to treat mem­bers of the greatest gen­er­a­tion with a spe­cial day that is high­lighted by vis­its to the war me­mori­als in Wash­ing­ton, D.C.

A Phil­adelphia chapter began a year ago, and Sunday marked the third bus trip or­gan­ized by loc­al vo­lun­teers. The day star­ted with a 5 a.m. reak­fast at the Dunkin’ Donuts near Welsh and the Boulevard.

A bus de­par­ted at 6 a.m. and ar­rived back about 10 p.m., and the vet­er­ans and their “guard­i­an” com­pan­ions had a full day of mean­ing­ful sight­see­ing and fun.

“It’s the best trip I’ve ever been on,” said Gil Be­ne­dict, a U.S. Army vet­er­an from Rhawn­hurst who served in the Phil­ip­pine is­lands from Janu­ary 1944 to June 1946. “It’s catered to the older vet­er­an.”

Be­ne­dict handled the de­tails for the loc­al bus trip. Three Hon­or Flight-sponsored buses also left from Delaware County. In all, about 100 vet­er­ans made the trip.

Hon­or Flight vo­lun­teer Patrick Car­berry stayed with the Phil­adelphi­ans for 16-plus hours, ca­ter­ing to their every need.

Hon­or Flight is an Ohio-based non-profit or­gan­iz­a­tion formed in May 2005. The or­gan­iz­a­tion is run by vo­lun­teers and fun­ded by in­di­vidu­als, cor­por­a­tions and fraternal groups. Former U.S. Sens. Bob and Eliza­beth Dole are hon­or­ary ad­visers.

An­drew Schiavello of Spring­field, Pa., star­ted the Phil­adelphia chapter. “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done, hands down,” he said.

SUP­PORT FROM THE SIDE­LINES

The Hon­or Flight vo­lun­teers like to cite Will Ro­gers, who said, “We can’t all be her­oes. Some of us have to stand on the curb and clap as they go by.”

There was plenty of clap­ping on Sunday, as tour­ists went out of their way to thank the vet­er­ans for their ser­vice.

Hon­or Flight made sure the vet­er­ans and their guard­i­ans were pre­pared for the long day and had something to do dur­ing the bus rides to and from D.C.

Guests watched films fo­cused on the World War II Me­mori­al, mil­it­ary cemeter­ies and D-Day. They looked at old pic­tures and edi­tions of Life magazine, and read let­ters from school chil­dren dur­ing a spe­cial “mail call.” They were giv­en hats, T-shirts, cof­fee mugs, wheel­chairs and sun block spray for the hot day.

Break­fast, lunch, din­ner and snacks kept them nour­ished. One vet­er­an joked that the only thing miss­ing from the feast was a Lucky Strikes ci­gar­ette, a com­mon amen­ity dur­ing war­time.

The ex­cite­ment was all cap­tured on dis­pos­able cam­er­as giv­en to every­one.

“It’s an in­ter­est­ing trip. There’s a heck of an it­in­er­ary,” said Bustleton’s Har­old Kasloff, treas­urer of a loc­al Dis­abled Amer­ic­an Vet­er­ans group and an Army vet­er­an of the European Theat­er in 1944 and ’45.

Hon­or Flight must have a pretty good repu­ta­tion among law en­force­ment agen­cies. The Phil­adelphia Po­lice De­part­ment provided an es­cort on south­bound I-95 to the Delaware County line.

In D.C. and en­virons, the United States Park Po­lice es­cor­ted the buses on high­ways and between stops at me­mori­als, drop­ping off the pas­sen­gers curb­side.

HER­OES UNITED

“This is a phe­nom­en­al group,” said Norm Dyn­er, an Army vet­er­an who served dur­ing the Korean War era.

Car­berry, the Hon­or Flight vo­lun­teer, awar­ded Dyn­er a “Purple Heart.” Dyn­er was tak­ing pic­tures of the sights when he tumbled off a step, suf­fer­ing a nasty gash to his left arm.

Jack Bar­bash won an Amer­ic­an flag as the old­est and highest-rank­ing of­ficer. The 93-year-old from Bustleton is a former Army staff ser­geant. He served in the European and Pa­cific theat­ers from June 1942 and Janu­ary 1946.

Bar­bash is glad he made the trip.

“It’s very nice. I’m en­joy­ing it very much,” he said.

The vet­er­ans and their guests made sure to thank the Hon­or Flight vo­lun­teers for go­ing all out for them. 

“It’s really nice. I ap­pre­ci­ate it,” said Bernie Lertz­man, an 86-year-old Army vet­er­an from Castor Gar­dens who served in Ger­many dur­ing World War II.

The day star­ted with a wreath-lay­ing ce­re­mony and view of the chan­ging of the guard at the Tomb of the Un­known Sol­dier at Ar­ling­ton Na­tion­al Cemetery.

WO­MAN­POWER

Next, it was off to the Wo­men in Mil­it­ary Ser­vice for Amer­ica Me­mori­al. There, Rhawn­hurst’s Mary Fer­rer was presen­ted with an Amer­ic­an flag and cer­ti­fic­ate by the mu­seum’s deputy dir­ect­or, Jan Fitz­sim­mons, a Navy re­tir­ee.

Fer­rer, 88, served in the Navy as a 2nd Class Petty Of­ficer in 1944, join­ing her three broth­ers in ser­vice to the coun­try. She was part of WAVES (Wo­men Ac­cep­ted for Vo­lun­teer Emer­gency Ser­vice).

Fer­rer was sta­tioned in New York and entered the ser­vice as an artist. Among her du­ties was pro­du­cing films that urged Amer­ic­an sol­diers to stay away from young Ger­man and Ja­pan­ese wo­men.

Fer­rer had a great time on Sunday, ac­com­pan­ied by her friend and guard­i­an, Ruth Fis­gaer.

“It was well worth it,” she said. “This is the ex­per­i­ence of a life­time. I’m go­ing to re­mem­ber this day for a long time. It was per­fect. It was the whole pack­age. It brings back a lot of memor­ies.”

A real high­light was the U.S. Mar­ine Corps War Me­mori­al, which fea­tures the fam­ous re-cre­ation of sol­diers rais­ing an Amer­ic­an flag on the is­land of Iwo Jima dur­ing a de­cis­ive and ul­ti­mately suc­cess­ful battle with the Ja­pan­ese in early 1945.

The vis­it­ors also had a chance to see the World War II, Korean and Vi­et­nam me­mori­als, the Lin­coln Me­mori­al and the Wash­ing­ton Monu­ment.

If the long, hot day sapped the en­ergy from the oc­to­gen­ari­ans, their spir­its were surely boos­ted on the re­turn trip to the com­munity cen­ter of Broomall’s St. Luke Greek Or­tho­dox Church.

Mo­tor­cyc­lists and loc­al po­lice and fire de­part­ments es­cor­ted them to the hall, where they were greeted by dozens of pat­ri­ot­ic cit­izens wav­ing Amer­ic­an flags. Even Swoop, the Eagles mas­cot, joined in the fest­iv­it­ies.

The Great­er Over­brook String Band per­formed pat­ri­ot­ic mu­sic out­side, and the Man­hat­tan Dolls trio ung pop­u­lar tunes from the 1930s and ’40s in­side the cen­ter, where din­ner was served.

The vet­er­ans walked on a red car­pet through a re­ceiv­ing line in­to the cen­ter, where they were greeted by U.S. Rep. Chaka Fat­tah.

“It was a nice day,” said Somer­ton’s Nick For­gione, 90, a Navy vet­er­an who served in the North At­lantic from 1942-44. “It’s good to see this many guys. I can’t be­lieve some of these old­timers.” ull;•

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How to help …

Tax-de­duct­ible dona­tions can be sent to Hon­or Flight Phil­adelphia, At­tn: An­drew Schiavello, 7 Wind­sor Circle, Spring­field, PA 19064.

For more in­form­a­tion, vis­it www.hon­or­flight­phil­adelphia.org

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You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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