CAPE VINCENT — Four World War II veterans received a hero’s send-off Friday at the American Legion post before traveling today to Washington on an Honor Flight program, one of the first local groups to participate in the program that takes veterans to visit the nation’s capital.
The honored veterans are Gordon R. “Bud” Daley, 91 ,Waddington; Gordon L. “Gordi” Hoag, 85, Cape Vincent; Irving J. “Jack” Phillips, 92, Three Mile Bay, and John F. Rehm, 86, Cape Vincent.
The Honor Flight program takes those who fought in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars to see the nation’s war memorials in Washington, D.C.
“We’re so excited to see these guys make this trip,” said Chuck K. Mosher, commander of the John C. Londraville American Legion Post 832, Cape Vincent. “It’s closure for a chapter of their life to see these memorials.”
Dianne T. Baker, president of the post auxiliary, said the veterans will be the first group to complete an Honor Flight out of Syracuse Hancock International Airport. She said the trip had been planned since March. The four who decided to go were out of 16 eligible World War II veterans at the post.
F. Amy McEathron, president of the 5th District Auxiliary, which includes Jefferson, Lewis, Oswego, Onondaga, Herkimer and Oneida counties, said the Honor Flight would be the first in the district.
The village’s Legion supplemented the national organization’s funding and raised an additional $5,300 with fish fry fundraisers to help support the trip for guardians for each of the veterans, who were a younger member of the veteran’s family.
Sitting Friday morning in the Legion’s hall on Broadway, each of the veterans took time to speak about his time in uniform and the war.
Mr. Daley, sitting with grandson Kristian N. Daley, 21, served for 23 years in the Army Air Force and Air Force. He said he had enlisted at Pine Camp, the military installation now known as Fort Drum, on April 1, 1942. Working for a few years as a flight instructor, Mr. Daley also did intelligence work both domestically and in Europe. As one example of his work, Mr. Daley said, he remembered being put on high alert in Greenland as news emerged in November 1963 of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination. He ended his military career as a tanker pilot.
Kristian Daley, a student at SUNY Canton, leaned in as his grandfather recounted his career.
“I hadn’t heard a lot of this before,” he said. “It’s awesome to get a chance to hear the whole story.”
Mr. Hoag said he was informed he was going on the trip Sunday during the service at River Community Church, Clayton.
Joining the Navy in 1943 at age 17, Mr. Hoag said his World War II career included maintaining a handful of planes and working on an aircraft carrier. Exiting the military after World War II, he later joined the Navy Reserves and served during the Korean War.
Mr. Hoag said he was most excited about seeing if he could find the names of friends from school who had died during the war.
“It boggles the mind how much of an honor it is to be sent there,” he said.
Mr. Phillips, the oldest of the group, will celebrate his 92nd birthday today during the trip. On Oct. 20, it will have been 70 years since he first enlisted in 1942. As an aerial engineer and crew chief in the Army Air Force, his work included delivering planes for arming, along with transporting foodstuffs and injured soldiers in Japan. Mr. Phillips said one of the highlights of his three-year career was flying with Robert MacArthur Crawford, who wrote the U.S. Air Force song.
He said he most looked forward to seeing the names of a pair of classmates who had died in the war.
Mr. Rehm, a pharmacy mate in the Navy, was aboard the USS Marathon to help support landing forces during the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945, and when it was torpedoed by the Japanese that July. Mr. Rehm said he was sleeping on the deck that night because of the heat, and the torpedo hit directly where he normally would sleep.
“If I went to sleep there that night, I would’ve been dead,” he said.
Mr. Rehm rolled back his sleeve to show a large tattoo of a woman in a bikini on his arm that he got in Honolulu, Hawaii. He said a military friend had persuaded him to get a tattoo with him, but by the time he had it, the friend had backed out.
“Don’t get a tattoo, whatever you do,” he said. Asked by a friend at his table to make it dance, he flexed and moved his arm to make the woman’s frame shake in rhythm.
Looking around the room, Mr. Rehm said he appreciated the amount of work that had gone into setting up the trip.
“It’s nice that they’re doing this and getting all us veterans together,” Mr. Rehm said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of us left.”