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Honor thy father

Sep 02, 2015 09:22AM, Published by Kevin, Categories: Arts+Entertainment in this issue, Stories From The Heartland


Honor Flight #6 participants at the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC in April. Photo by Bud Elliott.


Gallery: Honor Flight Program - Summer 2015 [5 Images] Click any image to expand.



When the Allegiant Airlines charter jet carrying 69 members of the Central Valley Honor Flight #6 touched down at Baltimore Washington International Airport at 6:05 in the evening on Monday, April 27, the Sandtown riot was already three hours old. As they landed, those veterans and their guardians sitting on the port side of the plane could have, had they wished, looked 10.6 miles across the flattening horizon and seen smoke rising from a CVS drug store at 3560 W. Franklin St. Fleeting images of a war seven decades past.

It is not unusual for a father and son to make the Honor Flight — the father as a World War II veteran, his son serving as his “guardian,” or helper on the trip. On this flight, however, both 90 year old John D’Angelo, and his son, 65 year old John Anthony D’Angelo, were the vets, each with his own guardian. They paid little attention to the rising violence streaming across television monitors in the air terminal coffee bars and fast food joints as the company of World War II veterans moved through the corridors to waiting buses. Soon they would be guests at a Baltimore VFW post for a barbeque dinner, then convoy to the Marriott Hotel overlooking the Pentagon. 

The Honor Flight program was born 10 years ago when the first group of World War II veterans flew from Ohio on privately donated small planes to Washington, DC to visit the newly-dedicated World War II Memorial. Since then, the Honor Flight network has grown to 127 hubs in 41 states. More than 100,000 vets have made the trip, each of which is supported entirely by private donations and private volunteers.

The rebirth of patriotism — it’s a good thing 

Marge Harpe and her mother, Evelyn, 90, of Madera were the only mother and daughter participants aboard Honor Flight #6.
Photo by Bud Elliott.

A mother and daughter team made this trip, as well. Ninety-year-old Evelyn Harp of Madera served in World War II as a Navy WAVE, treating burn victims at the San Diego Naval Hospital. Her daughter, Marge, was along as her guardian.  Marge is a registered nurse and works at the VA Hospital in Fresno.

“I came on this flight to honor my dad and all the other World War II veterans and to be a bridge as the Honor Flight program pivots into the Korean War and Vietnam era.” –John Anthony D’Angelo 

“This (trip) has been so inspirational,” Marge said. “I only wish that every American could see the reception that these old veterans receive all along the route. It is genuine admiration for their service and their sacrifices. It is deep and heartfelt and completely spontaneous.  

“I think we are witnessing a strong rebirth of patriotism in America.  It is a good thing.” 

The veterans come from Kerman and Taft, Tulare and Manteca. Seventy years ago they fought and died and cried in places with strange names like Eniwetok and Anzio, Guadalcanal, Corregedor, The Ardenne Forest. Collectively, they represent all branches of the military and have received hundreds of battlefield awards for bravery and valor. At the side of each vet was a “guardian” — a family member or friend who volunteered to help every step of the way. 

Bud Elliott (left) interviews
John D’Angelo and son,
John Anthony D’Angelo at the
U.S. Marine Corps Memorial in
Washington, DC.
Photo by Gene Day.

The Veterans Administration tells us that World War II veterans are passing away at the rate of 650 every day. Soon, there will be none left, hence the urgency to ferry as many as possible to the nation’s capital to see and touch and find closure at the memorials erected for them.  

John D’Angelo served in World War II and is in a wheelchair. John Anthony D’Angelo served in Vietnam and also relies on a wheelchair much of the time. Both men, and all the others on this trip, eagerly awaited the next two days when they would tour several war memorials, including the recently completed World War II Memorial, The Vietnam Wall, The U.S. Marine Memorial (commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial), Arlington National Cemetery, The Women’s Memorial and the Air Force and Navy Memorials.  

The elder D’Angelo flew scores of missions as a waist-gunner aboard B-26 Marauders with the Army Air Corps’ 387th bomb group. They chewed up Nazi military and industrial sites all over Europe and, later, in Operation Crossbow, concentrated on the V-1 and V-2 buzz bomb installations which rained such terror and destruction on the British Isles after D-day. His story is revealed on his face and by the long pauses between words.

The longest range bullet ever 

Vietnam Veteran John Anthony D’Angelo of Manteca chats with reporters at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Photo by Bud Elliott.

John Anthony tells both stories. 

“I came on this flight to honor my dad and all the other World War II veterans and to be a bridge as the Honor Flight program pivots into the Korean War and Vietnam era,” he said.  

As a member of the Army’s 520th Crash and Rescue team attached to the 101st Airborne Battalion operating mainly in the A Shau Valley in 1969 and 1970, he flew aboard Huey helicopters, straight into enemy fire to pull hundreds of wounded Americans to safety. He and his chopper were covered with layers of Agent Orange time and time again as they followed the C-130 spray planes into the jungle. 

An unidentified woman points to the name of a loved one at the Vietnam Wall. Photo by Bud Elliott.

More than 16 million Americans served under arms in World War II. Now in their late 80s, 90s and early 100s, these men and women are all that remains of what Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation.

It wasn’t until many years later that the toxins stored in his bone marrow would render a terminal prognosis for multiple myelomas.  

“That’s the longest range bullet, ever,” he joked.  

John Anthony was among the cadre of American veterans who suffered jeers and insults as they returned from duty in an unpopular war in Vietnam. He might have seen similar images on television screens, then, as now — burning cities, angry scowls on furious faces, policemen cowed and confused as open rebellion seemed imminent. Cities and neighborhoods at war with themselves. 

As the sixth Central Valley Honor Flight flew home late Wednesday afternoon, they left West Baltimore under an uneasy curfew. These men and women had nothing to do with the short war in Sandtown. They had everything to do with preserving the nation’s freedom 70 years ago.

More than 16 million Americans served under arms in World War II. Now in their late 80s, 90s and early 100s, these men and women are all that remains of what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” The Central Valley Honor Flight organization pays the tab for each World War II veteran’s trip to the Nation’s Capitol. To support the Honor Flights, please visit the website www.cvhonorflight.org.

Written by Bud Elliott, who retired in May 2014 from a broadcast journalism career that spanned 49 years, including 27 years at KSEE-TV in Fresno. He is currently a freelance writer.



Stories from the Heartland Veterans in this issue summer 2015 history patriotism heroes world war ii memorials


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