Loomis Communities

WWII veteran Takes Honor Flight

When Felix Salzano, formerly of West Springfield and now a resident of Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing in Springfield, first heard a presentation at the retirement community about the now-renowned Honor flight program that provides free escorted trips for veterans to war memorials  in Washington, D.C., he was eager to sign up.

Salzano, who has the rare distinction of having served in both the European and Pacific theateres during World War II, submitted his application right away to be hosted on an Honor Flight trip and was quickly accepted.

As he’s lived alone after the passing of his wife some years ago, he figured he would wait to join some of the handful of World War II veterans who live at one of the three Loomis retirement communities in the Pioneer Valley on the Honor Flight. Each honoree must have an escort to join them, usually a family member. Whenno other World War II-era vets immediately came forward, he put the idea aside for a year and a half.

Deciding to delay no longer, the 94-year-old joined more than 70 World War II veterans from throughout New England in September on the Honor Flight out of Logan International Airport, escorted by his cousin, Michael Kociela, who lives in Montaque. There, Salzano experienced a thankful nation’s gift that celebrates World War II veterans like him honiring them with a hero’s send-off for escorted visits to the nation’s war memorials and to Arlington National Cemetery.

According to Salzano, whose humility is obvious to a visitor and reflective of many in the Word War II :Greatest Generation,” it was a seminal moment. “It was so emotional, I cried,” he said about the military band send-off at Logan that included military families and their children expressing their thanks individually to each of the Honor Flight passengers.

“I was so excited I couldn’t sleep on the plane. And, I am very, very happy that I made the trip” he added.

Robert Gasque, who is one the driers serving residents at Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing, was assigned to drive Salzano to Logan. Worried about making sure he arrived at the appointed time, Gasque did a test run the day before between Springfield and Boston to ensure he would be there in time. Gasque also lost a loved one the day before, but still found the care and compassion to help Salzano make it to Boston, arriving for pick-up at the retirement community at 2:30 a.m.

Landing in Baltimore on a commercial flight filled with Honor Flight participants, three busloads headed to Washington, and, once arriving in the capital, police escorted the entourage, stopping traffic at each intersection to allow the convoy to pass national monuments and Arlington.

It was hard to express my appreciation, knowing so many served and didn’t come back hoe,” Salzano said about the experience of visiting the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials.

While the whirlwind trip to D.C. and back in one day was daunting, Salzano andGasque left Springfield at 3 a.m. and a van and driver provided by Loomis Lakeside at Reeds Landing picked Salzano up at Logan at 10:30 p.m. that evening. “I’m so glad I made it. I felt inspired.”

The experience evoked a flood of memories for Salzano. A communications specialist who laid telephone lines to connect U.S. troops, he remembers most of his wartime service was spent in Germany as Allied forces closed in on Berlin. He recalls Germany’s defeat in the European theater and how he received new orders deploying him to the Pacific for the planned invasion of Japan. He was part of the first 20,000 troops redeployed from Europe to the Pacific.

“We got our orders to go to the Pacific and left France by ship. I remember when we arrived at the Panama Canal they let us off the ship to have ice cream,” Salzano said. “We were at sea for 39 days and I never saw so many ships in my life. I said at the time, if we put each ship end-to-end we could walk home to the United States.”

With the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Salzano received the bulletin in the Philippines soon after that the was was over.

While the Honor Flight offered an opportunity for the nation the thank Salzano, he remains deeply appreciative for all that America has provided him. He recalls coming to the United States from Italy when he was 15 years old to join his father, an earlier immigrant and a railroad foreman in Chester. He learned that his father’s service in World War I afforded Felix and his mother U.S. citizenship  when they joined him in America.

Asked what he thinks about now in reflecting on the Honor Flight and his experience in Washington, Felix simply says, “The honor to serve our country.”

Reposted with Permission by Paul Robbins

Published in The Republican Plus from Wednesday January 17, 2018