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Veterans showered with respect, honor and love

‘Respect and honor and love’

  • Submitted Photo<br/>James Maloney while serving during World War II.

    Submitted Photo
    James Maloney while serving during World War II.

  • Submitted photo<br/>World War II veteran James Maloney, 90, of Ashfield, is greeted by members of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial  in Washington D.C.

    Submitted photo
    World War II veteran James Maloney, 90, of Ashfield, is greeted by members of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial in Washington D.C.

  • Photo by Amelia Maloney<br/><br/>James Maloney (on right), with Elizabeth Dole and another World War II veteran in Washington D.C.

    Photo by Amelia Maloney

    James Maloney (on right), with Elizabeth Dole and another World War II veteran in Washington D.C.

  • Submitted Photo<br/>James Maloney while serving during World War II.
  • Submitted photo<br/>World War II veteran James Maloney, 90, of Ashfield, is greeted by members of the Friends of the National World War II Memorial  in Washington D.C.
  • Photo by Amelia Maloney<br/><br/>James Maloney (on right), with Elizabeth Dole and another World War II veteran in Washington D.C.

ASHFIELD — Right after James Maloney graduated from Greenfield High School, he remembers going to the basement-level recruitment center in the Greenfield Post Office to ask about joining the armed services.

World War II had started for the U.S. the December before.

Maloney joined the U.S. Air Force in July 1942, at age 19, and came back 38 months later. He was a radio operator whose job was to guide bomber pilots back to their bases after the planes had dropped their bombs or skirmished with enemy aircraft.

Maloney came home with six Bronze Stars for campaigns in Normandy, Northern France, Rhineland, Ardennes, Central Europe and “Air Offensive, Europe,” two blue ribbons and three citation badges. But he doesn’t remember any big homecoming celebration — at least not like the one he got nearly 70 years later, through Honor Flight New England.

On Sept. 28, Maloney was one of 150 New England-based World War II veterans who received an all-expenses paid trip to Washington D.C. for a day in which they were treated like kings.

When Maloney, 90, and his daughter, Amelia Maloney, both of Ashfield, arrived at Logan Airport in Boston, they were escorted by state police, soldiers and sailers to buses taking them to their flight.

“At 6 a.m., people were lined up, welcoming them,” Amelia Maloney said. “When the plane landed in Baltimore, the fire department came out with these big tanker trucks firing water cannons — which made rainbows,” she said. “It was the most beautiful site.”

“When we finally disembarked, we could hear a lot of commotion in the airport. It was lined with people, flags, clapping,” she said. “There were Vietnam War veterans and cadets.”

She said the veterans were sung to. “There were bagpipes. People in the airport, who had no idea what was happening, were so swept up in the moment, they were thanking them for their service,” she said.

According to the Maloneys, the Honor Flight veterans and their companions were put onto buses headed for D.C. — with traffic parting for the buses all the way there.

“The entire thing was so based on respect and honor and love,” Ms. Maloney said.

The veterans were greeted by retired Gen. Colin Powell, former Sen. Bob Dole and his wife, Elizabeth Dole, and military officials. While in Washington, the veterans, mostly in wheelchairs, toured the Vietnam war memorial, Arlington Cemetery, and the Air Force monument.

Maloney said his favorite site was the Marine Corps Memorial, of the flag-raising on Iwo Jima.

He said the memorial meant a lot to him because his brother, John, served as a Marine during the war. John came home after the war, but died a few years later in a car accident.

“He was the first one to enlist,” said Maloney. “I had such great respect for my brother John. ... The war changed him so much,” he added.

During World War II, all three brothers were in military service: John, the first to enlist, was a Marine, James was in the Air Force, and Joseph was stationed in Guadalcanal, in the South Pacific.

After the tours, the Honor Flight veterans were taken to a banquet and a U.S.O. show. Then they headed back to Baltimore, where again there were lines of people greeting them and thanking them for their service, at the airport.

“The oldest veteran had turned 94 that day,” said Amelia Maloney. “So everybody sang ‘Happy Birthday’ to him. And he was crying. Tears were streaming down.”

Honor Flight New England is entirely funded by private donations, and its purpose is to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. This specific trip was mostly paid for through donations raised by Ocean State Job Lot.

Honor Flight’s mission

When Honor Flight New England began, World War II veterans nationwide were dying at the rate of about 1,000 per day, according to the Honor Flight New England website.

Currently, honoring World War II veterans for their service is a top priority, but the organization plans to acknowledge the veterans of more recent wars in the future.

Amelia Maloney submitted an application for her father to go on one of these flights. Honor Flight pays all expenses for each veteran and one able-bodied guardian to accompany each.

The first Honor Flight New England trip was in June 2009. Since then, there have been 28 flights, serving 821 New England World War II veterans and prisoners of war, according to the Honor Flight website.

Nationwide, about 8,000 World War II veterans are now on waiting lists to be on Honor Flights.

In the beginning of his Air Force service, Maloney said, the squadron planes were carrying 500-pound bombs under each wing. But by the end, they were carrying 2,000-pound bombs under each wing.

From an aged manila envelope, Mahoney spilled out medals, uniform patches and souvenirs from his years in service with the Air Force 358th Fighter Group. Among these items was a brass belt buckle from a German soldier, a German medal and Maloney’s own rosary.

In a book about the Air Force, “Orange Tails,” (so named for the stripes painted on the planes’ tails) Maloney pointed out some of the soldiers he knew who lost their lives.

“This pilot was hit,” he says. “I was trying to give him a direction home, but all I could hear was buzzing. He managed to keep the plane in the air, until it got past a French village and then it crashed. He was buried with honors in France.”

Maloney’s Fighter Group arrived at Normandy Beach soon after D-Day, while the fighting was still on-going. He remembered that two pilots and the head doctor wanted to see the front line. “They went up and didn’t come back, because they were captured by the Germans,” he said. “They served as POWs through the rest of the war.”

Maloney said someone made a mistake and sent his unit in front of the infantry. He said the infantry had to try to shoot over their heads at the Germans, stationed a mile away.

By the end of the war, he said, “it was an everyday experience to see German soldiers walking home. They had no transportation. They had nothing. Their Army said: ‘To hell with them.’ Nobody took care of them. There were some kids who couldn’t have been more than 12 years old — and they looked like old men.”

Amelia Mahoney talked about how humble the World War II veterans of the Honor Flight are, about how they don’t seem to see themselves as heroic, and how surprised they were by the respect given them.

Her father pointed to a page in “Orange Tails” that listed several names and was headed “In Memoriam.”

“The humility of all these veterans is (because of) these people — in memoriam — dead at the age of 23 or so,” he said. “They were the heroes.”

For online information about Honor Flight New England, go to:

http://www.honorflightnewengland.org/

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