World War II vets feted at American Warrior pre-flight rally
By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwich - posted Mon., Apr. 15, 2013
Anthony Ciccone spent his enlistment during World War II stoking the boilers of a U.S. Navy vessel patrolling the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. “I didn’t do anything special,” he insisted. Pointing to Jerome Light of Westerly, R.I., he added, “This guy right here was special. He was a pilot. I was just in the engine room firing up the boilers to make the ship go.”
Even so, Ciccone’s humble service as a fireman first class in the war earned him a free trip with American Warrior to Washington, D.C., to see the monument erected in memory to his service and to the thousands of others whose efforts won victory over the forces of Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. “I’ve wanted this for a long time, but it never worked out before” said Ciccone, a lifetime Norwich resident. He had been slated attend previous trips, but health problems intervened. Now he plans to make the trip April 27, along with 100 other World War II veterans from across the region. The vets are assisted by an army of volunteer “guardians” who shepherd them through a chartered flight to and from Bradley International Airport and a day-long tour of significant war monuments in the nation’s capital.
The pilot sitting at Ciccone’s table, Light, flew 36 missions out of France and Germany in an Army Air Corps medium bomber group during the war. Enamored of flight since his childhood, as a kid he had model airplanes hanging all over his house, and his mother had bruises on her forehead from bumping into them. “She threatened to throw me out of the house if I got any more,” he said. “She said, ‘Either you go or the planes go.’” So he enlisted. “Despite all the attempts of the Germans to kill me, I survived,” Light said.
“The one big advantage we had years ago was we were young and foolish, but we also had patriotism,” said Light. He stayed in the service long enough to earn a civilian pilot’s license. He and his late wife, Hani, went flying during their honeymoon, and he handed the controls over to her, not telling her that the plane had dual controls. “She loved it. She wanted to go back and do it again,” he said.
Many of the veterans attended the April 13 rally at the Norwich Senior Center, to meet their guardians and members of the team escorting the group on the trip. This is the ninth American Warrior flight, said the group's founder, Christopher Coutu. “It’s your day,” he told the assembly. “We’re going to make sure you have the time of your life.” The team is bringing 16 wheelchairs “even though we know that some of you play 18 rounds of golf, some of you run marathons. We want to make sure you feel as full of energy as can be for the full trip,” he said.
“For all of us doing this for a long time, you’re like our fathers and grandfathers,” said John Casey, Jr. “We don’t want you spending any money.” The vets are treated to a full day of travel, meals and sightseeing at no cost, he said, even including a souvenir if they wish.
Joan Santhouse was one of two local female veterans signed up for the trip. She did wartime duty in the WAVES as secretary to a commander in the Philadelphia Naval yard, then “filled in wherever there was a need,” she said. Her husband, Val, also a WWII veteran, went on the trip last year, she said.
Many of those attending the rally wore caps or t-shirts proclaiming their military service. Angelo Prece’s jacket and cap both evidenced his presence at D-Day, June 6, 1944, where he served in the Navy on an amphibious landing vehicle in the first wave of the invasion of Nazi-occupied France. “It was a bad one,” he said grimly. “Not many of us are left. There were 50 guys on my boat and only four of us Navy guys survived [the invasion].”
Casey urged the vets to allow him to enroll them in the World War II Registry of Remembrances. “After all these years, it would be nice if [your families] know you’re one of America’s heroes,” he said.
Trip organizer Sue Ponder said that about two-thirds of the veterans making the trip attended the rally - “even our most incapacitated person, who’s in a motorized wheelchair with oxygen, the works," she said. "He’s so excited to be going."
“I’ve gotten involved in a lot of things over the years,” said Ponder, whose husband, Dan, is a World War II vet. “But this is the one I’ve stayed with. It’s awesome.”