Honoring 'The Greatest Generation'

“They sacrificed so much for what that memorial represented. Sharing that experience with them was something I will never forget,” Thomas Ciravolo.
“They sacrificed so much for what that memorial represented. Sharing that experience with them was something I will never forget,” Thomas Ciravolo.
Thomas Ciravolo with Santo “Sandy” Squillacioti, and Kathie Acker with George Carbain prepare to board their flight from MacArthur Airport.
Thomas Ciravolo with Santo “Sandy” Squillacioti, and Kathie Acker with George Carbain prepare to board their flight from MacArthur Airport.
“George said to me that he was awestruck that after all these years, they are recognizing the World War II veterans and their sacrifice,” Whitman Principal Kathie Acker.
“George said to me that he was awestruck that after all these years, they are recognizing the World War II veterans and their sacrifice,” Whitman Principal Kathie Acker.
Thomas Ciravolo with Santo “Sandy” Squillacioti.  “The whole experience meant so much to me because I was able to give back to the men and women who gave so much for our country in that time period,” Thomas Ciravolo.
Thomas Ciravolo with Santo “Sandy” Squillacioti. “The whole experience meant so much to me because I was able to give back to the men and women who gave so much for our country in that time period,” Thomas Ciravolo.

As the United States prepares to honor the heroes who have given their lives to protect our nation on Memorial Day, there is a group making sure the greatest generation never forgets how much they are appreciated.

Honor Flight Network is a program that flies World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial, as well as Arlington National Cemetery, the Air Force Memorial, and the United States Marine Corps War Memorial, in person. The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. This national organization transports our heroes from all over the country to Washington, DC, to visit their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans—World War II survivors and other veterans who may be terminally ill. 

It is considered a great honor to be an Honor Flight Guardian and escort these brave veterans for their long day in Washington, DC, and South Huntington is proud that Walt Whitman Principal Kathie Acker and senior Whitman student Thomas Ciravolo were chosen as Guardians.

Thomas Ciravolo first met his veteran, Santo “Sandy” Squillacioti, at MacArthur Airport at 6:00 AM on Saturday, May 3, along with close to 100 other World War II veterans, their Guardians, and hundreds of well-wishers, many from South Huntington. Mr. Squillacioti, 93 years old, was drafted in 1941; he became a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division and spent a good deal of time behind enemy lines in Germany. “The whole experience meant so much to me because I was able to give back to the men and women who gave so much for our country in that time period,” said Thomas. Mr. Squillacioti, who now lives in Smithtown, presented Thomas with a set of personalized dog tags he had made especially for him. “It was such a thoughtful gift, to give me my own dog tags. That was something that was so important to him when he was about my age. It told me how much the day meant to him.”

“I was sad when the day was over,” continued Thomas. “But seeing the faces on the vets as they experienced the World War II Memorial was incredible because most had never been there, and they sacrificed so much for what that memorial represented. Sharing that experience with them was something I will never forget.”

At 89 years old, George Carbain was one of the younger veterans, and he kept Principal Acker on her toes all day, wanting to see additional sites while still keeping to the tight itinerary.  But the experience was one she will never forget. “To see George’s reaction to the reception he received was really amazing,” said Principal Acker. “George said to me that he was awestruck that after all these years, they are recognizing the World War II veterans and their sacrifice.” George Carbain’s experience during World War II was in the South Pacific aboard a Landing Ship (LSM-292).

“Another one of the great experiences that day occurred when we were taking the bus from BWI Airport to Washington, DC,” continued Principal Acker. “They held what is commonly referred to in the military as ‘mail call.’ The Honor Flight organizers, working behind the scenes with family members, had letters from family and friends that had been written for this special day, and they were handed out to our veterans, to their total astonishment. This whole experience was transformational for me. It was an amazing day, and then to get back to MacArthur Airport at around 10 at night and see hundreds of well-wishers waiting for the veterans was incredibly emotional.” 

Nearly 1,000 Long Island vets have been taken on an Honor Flight. But the group’s Long Island director Chris Cosich said, “It’s up the families of the vets to make sure they take advantage of the program.” The next Honor Flight from Long Island will be in the fall of 2014. If you would like additional information about Honor Flight Long Island, please visit the following website: http://honorflightlongisland.org.