Fifty World War II veterans, with DAV’s assistance, traveled in June to Washington, D.C., via the SouthWest Honor Flight program, to tour the National World War II Memorial.
Don Vecoli, retired Navy veteran and founder and president of SouthWest Honor Flight, said Manatee County Chapter 18, Florida has provided volunteer assistance for the program, which has flown more than 600 World War II veterans since its first journey in September 2008.
“DAV Chapter 18 has been very generous in support of my program,” the former Navy master chief petty officer said of DAV volunteers.
“For our last three flights, I’ve had 10 guardians from Chapter 18,” said Vecoli. “The guardians totally dedicate themselves to the veteran.”
Albert Mackay, Chapter 18 Adjutant, said DAV was happy to assist with coordination efforts and provide some of the volunteer guardians.
“Some of the [World War II] veterans initially don’t want to go,” Mackay said. “But when they do, they’re glad they did.”
A big piece of the Honor Flight program is assisting the veterans once they arrive in Washington.
Mackay said travel assistance is usually a veteran’s biggest concern, but the guardians take care of this. “We’re close to this,” he said. “We want to pay them the respect they’re due.”
One of the Honor Flight participants, former Navy yeoman Alfred Mignone, said his ship, the heavy cruiser USS Houston, was torpedoed by the Japanese twice. The Honor Flight was therapeutic in that he was able to interact with fellow World War II veterans.
“They got us two times,” he said. “Oct. 14, 1944, and Oct. 16, 1944. I can still see the pictures in my head and will never forget the smell, but we still brought our ship back.”
Mignone thought he would be a hindrance on the trip because he could not walk for long distances at a time, but DAV said, “No problem.”
“They had volunteers to push those of us in wheelchairs, both in Washington and when we returned home,” he said. “I can’t say enough about DAV—I’m going to support them every chance I get.”
National Adjutant Marc Burgess praised the Chapter. “I commend the efforts of this organization and applaud our Florida Chapter for their volunteer efforts,” he said. “We serve all veterans from all eras, and this is a stellar example of our resolve to ensure America’s veterans lead enriched and high-quality lives.”