Nine World War II heroes, ready to soar, share their stories of service

With openness, humor and without sugar coating, nine World War II veterans recounted a few war experiences before their honor flight next Sunday from Long Island to the country’s capital.

There were a few mishaps along the way, they remembered; some dangerous, some humorous, which leave little that they revealed about the horrors of war, including D-Day.

“Chow was good except they did not know how to cook it,” Dominick Critelli, 100, of Floral Park, wrote of his first U.S. Army training after being drafted.

Becoming an aircraft engine mechanic and a Tec 3 sergeant required backbone. “I was scared and depressed for the first few days. The future was unknown and scary, and I knew I would miss my family immensely.”

Words like bravery and bravery do not appear in the brief written accounts of these veterans, which the flight attendants provided to Newsday: Some of the most consistent events are described in the simplest way.

Critelli simply notes that one of his laudatory letters was for the Battle of Bulge. After landing in a pasture to evade German fighter jets, he does not write about the attacks, but about cleaning cow dung from their own aircraft. When he remembers crossing the Rhine, he pays tribute to the Salvation Army for handing out hot coffee and donuts. “It was the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in the Army.”

After learning to identify and shoot down German planes and rockets, says Vincent J. Tolve, 98, of Mastic Beach, a corps and squad leader in the Army Air Corps, with great economy: “I was then placed on a ship – and went into Normandy – we landed in the water and the Rangers cleared the way up the cliff and overtook the German’s huge cannons. “

This D-Day survivor briefly summarizes the role of his unit: “So under General Patton we moved through France, crossing the Rhine into German (y), where the Germans ‘bombed hell out of us’.”

Awarded a bronze star and a purple heart for what he calls a “small wound,” Twelve, not mentioning other injuries or deaths, says only, “My squad became like a family.” The Air Corps became an air force in 1947.

As good shepherds for anyone whose future they made possible, veterans, including Eleanor Rizutto, of Franklin Square, a nurse in the U.S. Army who turns 100 on Tuesday, offer plain, hard truths without embellishment: “It was sad,” she said. “Life is hard; we had been hurt all along.”

She served one year in North Africa and another with frontline troops advancing from Naples to Trieste in Italy. “We were gung-ho and anxious; it was a rough deal; I can not go into the details; I do not even like to remember them.”

Now, a whirlwind trip to DC

Rizutto is the only woman among the nine veterans who will fly with Southwest Airlines out of Islip next Sunday, see the Second World War Memorial, the “Change of Guard” ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery and the Iwo Jima Memorial and be welcomed back at their the return of The Long Island Bagpipe Band.

Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, formed in 2005, says it has organized these tours for more than 240,000 veterans — including those from recent wars or who have suffered terminal illnesses.

“I feel like there are so many people who deserve the credit,” Rizutto said.

Bill Jones, Honor Flight Long Islands president, likened the trips to giving the veterans a “big hug”. But the trips were suspended after COVID-19 hit from March 2020 to August 15 this year.

“This special Honor Flight gives nine of our ‘Greatest Generation’ Americans an opportunity to consider their military memorials, meet representatives of their service branches, communicate with other veterans, and exchange stories from World War II,” Jones said.

Also for the trip are Vincent DePalo, 98, from Bethpage, an Army Air Corps sergeant and flight engineer for the B-17 and B-24 aircraft who served in Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Louis Peretz, 100, of Commack, an Army Air Corps sergeant and sharing manager of B-25s operating aircraft in India, until “I got to see my beautiful wife Helen and my parents again!”

Survival stories

A few statistics reveal how lucky these nine veterans were. A total of 416,800 U.S. military personnel were killed in World War II. Out of a whopping 1,000 service members, 8.6 died in action, three from natural causes, and 17.7 were injured in combat, says New Orleans-based The National WWII Museum.

Eugene Zanger, 93, of Massapequa, who enlisted in the army “to fight the Germans” but was instead sent to Korea, is one of the many left with permanent injuries for which he was only partially compensated. .

Corporal and company secretary of the road construction 42. Engineers Construction Battalion, he broke stones with a hammer for six months — with few if any safety precautions. “I was quite disabled when I left the service. I had been poisoned, was deaf and I could not walk on my right foot,” he said.

Robert Leslie Harms, 95, of Carle Place, a first-class navy who says he still remembers Morse code, underwent radio, shooting and aviation training, which had its dangers.

“During training, we lost a couple of men because we used old planes,” he recalled.

Sent to Pearl Harbor after the war ended, one of his roles was helmsman on a 50-foot boat that ferries passengers between Honolulu and the Navy Station; once, when he had run out of gas, he had to dive into the oily harbor and swim ashore. “The next day I noticed there were sharks in the water.”

Constantine “Gus” Efthimiades, 95, of Whitestone, an army corporal, fought his way through France, Belgium, and Germany. “We shot the mortars many times,” he writes, first describing being scared while standing guard on the edge of a German forest.

His deportation to Japan was canceled after the country surrendered.

While studying aviation maintenance in England, his logic, not that of the military, saved him from his professor’s false claim of cheating.

“I said to him, ‘I’m the only person who got 100, so who did I cheat on?’ He withdrew his accusation and I was given a certificate to complete the course, ”Efthimiades wrote.

Prepared as an 18-year-old, Stephen J. Samsel, 94, of Fairfield, Connecticut, chose the Navy, he said, as he “grew up along Long Island Sound.”

On the train to San Diego “we could only sit upright all over the country.” He remembers strangers giving out water at stops. “My first drink was in Mystic, Iowa – so grateful.”

As a helmsman, he served in the Pacific Ocean – where the USS Indianapolis, just 30 kilometers before one of his ships, was sunk on July 30, 1945. This disaster with nearly 900 sailors killed was only a few days after the ship had delivered important atomic bomb parts. to Tinian Island, about 1,500 miles southeast of Japan, where Hiroshima and Nagasaki attacks occurred.

Writes Samsel: “We heard from the radio broadcast when they dropped the atomic bombs on Japan and very shortly after we heard about Japan’s surrender. It was [like] the Fourth of July with all ships firing flames in celebration. ”

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