Helping to honor veterans and strengthen ties within the community, the East Islip Middle School Builders Club participated in another act of patriotism and service with Long Island Honor Flight, greeting veterans returning from a recent trip to Washington, D.C.
This latest Honor Flight in May included 48 World War II veterans and two Korean War veterans, aided by 60 accompanying guardians. Among the veterans of note were Joe LaBarbera, one of the last living members of Darby’s Rangers, and couple Hank and Rhona Aron, who met during WWII and have been married for 71 years.
After an early morning motorcycle escort by Boots on the Ground New York, Red Knights of New York, American Legion Riders and Iron Shields of New York, the vets departed from Islip’s Long Island MacArthur Airport. Upon arrival at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, they were greeted by a fire truck escort and water cannon salute, and were given a standing ovation by passengers and crews from all of the other airlines. Buses took the vets to the National World War II Memorial, where they spent two hours in reflection, followed by visits to the Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
When the returning vets arrived back at the airport in Islip that evening, a crowd of several hundred people were there waiting to welcome them, including family members, the East Islip Middle School Builders Club, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts and honor guards from various organizations. The Builders Club students, led by teacher Rena Costello, had created “welcome home” signs with the veterans’ names on them. They also wrote “mail call” thank-you letters to the veterans, which Honor Flight gave them to read during the trip as a heartwarming way to relive the experience of receiving mail from home.
“I’m not sure what made me prouder, to see great American heroes grateful to the community welcoming them home, or to see our children looking up to them and cheering them on,” said airport attendee Michael Arens, whose son, Jacob, is a member of the Builders Club. “My family greatly appreciates Mrs. Costello’s dedication to the Builders Club and for giving our children the opportunity to support our nation’s veterans.”
Honor Flight Long Island, based in Southampton, has been in existence since 2006, providing free plane trips and daylong tours for veterans to relevant sites in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit has flown 32 missions to the capitol for more than 1,250 participating Long Island WWII veterans.
“It’s safe to say that we all get more out of our participation than we put into it, and we look forward to working together on the next fall flight,” said Honor Flight committee member Tina Bates, whose children, Lucas and Sophia, are Builders Club members and participate in Honor Flight events.
According to Bates’ husband, Phil, who serves on the group’s board of directors, Honor Flight Long Island continues to seek WWII veterans who would be interested in taking advantage of the program and attending the flight, and encourages donations from the community to pay for sending the veterans to D.C. The organization can be contacted at 631-702-2423, or via their website.