Who Packed your Parachute?

May 17th is Armed Forces Day. Last year we spent the afternoon roaming the halls of the Purple Heart Museum (click for the full story). This year we think that bringing you highlights from the 4th Honor Flight out of Stewart Airport is a great way to celebrate the men and women of our armed forces. (Hudson Valley Honor Flight online)

The morning starts with an escorted caravan. The thunderous applause of motorcycle groups that ride in honor of our men and women in uniform precede a barrage of emergency service vehicles including first responders, police and fire staff. Then, the buses, two coaches filled with gentlemen who bear the battle scars of the second world war, and with them, generous escorts, family members and community enthusiasts who will accompany the veterans as guardians on the trip down to Washington D.C. for an afternoon-long adventure into the capital. There, the veterans stand captivated by the prestigious World War II memorial.

It is commonly reported that the veterans of Honor Flight are brought to immediate tears at the sight of the memorial.

It is a beautiful tribute to the military and civilians lives lost, battered and witness to the second world war.

Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., it is seen at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. The memorial, dedicated in 2004, consists of high-standing pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain. 

Stewart Airport is transformed on the day of Honor Flight. The baggage claim area is reinvented with a wall-to-wall alignment of people who wait in line to shake the hands with these men as they prepare to embark on their journey.

When the ceremony begins at approximately 8 AM the Color Guard provides a formal and dignified welcome to the crowd.

The original chair of Honor Flight, Steve Nicoli, attended the 4th Hudson Valley Honor Flight with his son, Mikey, and lovely lady, Nicole. 

Veterans enjoy announcements from Senator William Larkin, Andy Komonchak, Shop Rite Corp. (major sponsors), and Frank Kimler.

This is a great event. It says to America: We gave to our cause. This is a flight of memory. I went on the first flight. When I started looking at some of those stones and I thought about New Guinea and the Phillipines... (Senator Larkin was brought to tears by this thought.) We had kids that were 14 and 15. I was 16 , so I was one of the older boys. (This got a laugh.)

 You deserve this flight to go back to that memory. Don't be afraid when somebody says, 'He's got a tear.' He's got a tear because because he's thinking about those that went with him. You gave and you gave and you gave. It's now our  turn to say to you, please join us in your memories. Take a lot of pictures. And hen you stop in front of (the memorial) whether it was  Italy, Normandy or Iwo Jima, take a moment and reflect on what happened and how proud you are to be an American. 

- Senator Larkin

Several veterans who did not live to see the day of Honor Flight were honored by the presence of their families at the morning ceremony. Their stories were told and their photos were held up by young cadets. 

Frank Morea, full of life and ready for flight at 101 years old.

Master Sgt. Mary Kay Messenger of the United States Military Academy Band at West Point sang to the veterans and the crowd joined her during versus of "God Bless America".

Eileen Salma, a veteran herself, served as a guardian on the flight to D.C. It was her first trip and she was so excited.

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Master Sgt. Mary Kay Messenger

Mayor Brian Maher with fiance Becky Boone - executive director of Honor Flight. Daughter Mia Grace was born just a few days later. 

The morning was made especially gleeful by a representative from Shop Rite who retold a classic war story that touched the hearts of everyone. 

Who Packed your Parachute?

Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane was destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a communist Vietnamese prison. He survived the ordeal and now lectures on lessons learned from that experience!

One day, when Plumb and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, "You're Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!"

"How in the world did you know that?" asked Plumb.

"I packed your parachute," the man replied. Plumb gasped in surprise and gratitude. The man pumped his hand and said, "I guess it worked!" Plumb assured him, "It sure did. If your chute hadn't worked, I wouldn't be here today."

Plumb couldn't sleep that night, thinking about that man. Plumb says, "I kept wondering what he had looked like in a Navy uniform: a white hat; a bib in the back; and bell-bottom trousers. I wonder how many times I might have seen him and not even said 'Good morning, how are you?' or anything because, you see, I was a fighter pilot and he was just a sailor." Plumb thought of the many hours the sailor had spent at a long wooden table in the bowels of the ship, carefully weaving the shrouds and folding the silks of each chute, holding in his hands each time the fate of someone he didn't know.
 

We know who packed our parachute. The men and women of America's great wars who protect our freedom and preserve a great future. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You to ALL of our men and women of service.

Happy Armed Forces Day,

HHV Staff and Friends

Headlining Photo: Mike Snyder with his two young girls. Mike ran the NYC marathon and raised 10,000 for Honor Flight after taking part in the second flight in 2012.  How awesome is that? 

If you know a WWII veteran who might like to take the flight visit Hudson Valley Honor Flight online to get in touch!