Patrick Ferguson of North Haven and Louis Mosconi from Montauk will be visiting the war memorials in Washington, D.C on Saturday, May 11, courtesy of Honor Flight Long Island, and they both couldn’t be more appreciative.
“I’m very excited,” said Mosconi, 83, who served in Korea, rising to the rank of corporal. “I’m anxious to see a couple of people’s names that I want to look at and touch.”
Honor Flight Long Island — part of the national Honor Flight network — organizes, hosts, and pays for flights to D.C. each spring and fall. Each trip includes 50 veterans who go for free, thanks to donations from across Long Island. They are accompanied by 50 guardians; next-generation, able-bodied volunteers who donate a tax-deductible $400 to offset the day’s travel expenditures.
From across the Island, “we have 12 World War II and 30 Korean War vets,” said Virginia Bennett, HFLI secretary. The criteria includes never having seen the memorials before. “It’s a profound moment for them,” she said, adding that there is a waiting list of 130, and that in 2020, HFLI will start taking veterans of the Vietnam War as well.
Ferguson, who was born in the U.S. but moved back to Tuam, Ireland, when he was a boy, enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in England, connecting with a friend who had already joined up. “I had dual citizenship, so I was eligible,” said the staff sergeant in his lilting brogue. He recalled going through basic training with Larry Hagman, the actor known as Major Tony Nelson on “I Dream of Jeannie” and J.R. Ewing in “Dallas.”
“He was a smarty,” said Ferguson. “His mother, Mary Martin, was in ‘South Pacific’ on Broadway, and he managed to get tickets for all the drill instructors. At the end of training, only one of us got his stripes,” he said, laughing. “I’ll let you guess which one it was.”
Departing from Islip MacArthur Airport by the dawn’s early light, veterans and their guardians will go on a guided tour of Arlington National Cemetery, WWII, Korean War, Air Force, Navy, and other memorials, plus meet officers from their military branches. HFLI Vice President Roger Kilfoil, plus board members Steve Russell, Ted Kiladitis, and Bill Donahue, are all on the flight as well. They return to Islip that night to a rousing welcome by hundreds of flag-waving family members and friends, accompanied by the Long Island Firefighters Bagpiper Band.
HFLI is now accepting applications for future flights from WWII, Korean War, and Vietnam War veterans. Veterans from other theatres of conflict with a life-limiting illness are encouraged to apply for future flights. If there is no family member to act as a guardian, HFLI has a roster of volunteers ready to step up for the privilege and donate the required fee. To apply for an upcoming flight or make a contribution to become a veteran’s guardian, visit www.honorflightlongisland.org.
“To have this, where they’re honoring the vets, a tiny little ‘thank you’ to us, is wonderful,” Ferguson said. “God knows, we went and did whatever we were told to do for this country. It’s so nice to have this.”