Flight of honor for vets, businessman

Published 10:10 am Friday, May 27, 2011

John Gargiulo (back, left) with World War II veterans Dale Holl, Stan Howell and Ed Duszak in Washington D.C. Gargiulo traveled to the nation’s capitol with the veterans as part of Honor Flight. (photo submitted)

While the intention of the quick plane ride Tryon businessman John Gargiulo took last weekend was to honor local veterans with trips to Washington D.C. war monuments, Gargiulo said he found himself honored simply to be in the veterans’ presence.

“They are the Greatest Generation… because of them my generation had it better than anyone ever had and I’m afraid better than anyone ever will again,” Gargiulo said. “It’s all because of what these people did that made our lives so great.”

Gargiulo participated in the May 14 Honor Flight to D.C. as a guardian to three veterans.

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Stepping off the plane and onto a charter bus, the vets and guardians made their way immediately to the World War II memorial. There Sen. Bob Dole greeted them. The veterans took pictures and sat together reflecting on their wartime experiences.

Veteran Dale Holl talked of his time in the Navy during the war, Gargiulo said.

He was assigned to the U.S.S. Missouri, the very ship on which the Japanese signed the peace treaty that ended the war.

Gargiulo said another vet recalled serving as a fighter pilot.

After about an hour and a half they made way to the Korean Memorial.

“It was much more emotional in its setting,” Gargiulo said of the Korean War monument. “There are 19 more-than-life-sized statues walking through rice paddies. To see the emotion etched on those faces it made you realize how terrifying that most have been.”

The group then traveled to the Lincoln Memorial, the Ewo Jima Memorial and Arlington Cemetery. At the cemetery the veterans were given a bus tour before stopping at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier to watch the changing of the guard and bestow a wreath for the tomb.

Gargiulo lived in Washington, D.C. for quite a while and has visited often, even making trips to the various memorials. He said he’s never looked at them quite the way he did on this trip however.

“I guess because I was with these men who partook in these actual events and to have them explain their experiences – it wasn’t just stone and metal, it was what these memorials actually stood for,” he said.

The average veteran making the trip is about 88 years old, Gargiulo said. He said the organizers take great care to ensure there are doctors and other medical personnel onboard for each trip in case of health emergencies.

A guardian also travels to assist with any needs of those veterans taking part.

Gargiulo participated as a guardian in the same fashion several members of the Tryon Rotary Club have for seven other flights before now.

The veterans and guardians returned home May 14 to full military pomp and circumstance at the Asheville Airport – again bands, uniformed military members, friends and family awaited all of them.

“It was truly one of the more memorable things I’ve ever been a part of,” Gargiulo said.  “To see how the general public thanked the veterans was the most outstanding part of the entire trip.”

Gargiulo said the vets strolled through the line of cheering people doling out hugs, handshakes and even kisses.