Med Group Captain honored to escort a WWII Vet to Nation's Capital

  • Published
  • By Capt. John Gillard
  • 45th Medical Group
Most mornings for me are pretty standard with about three snoozes on my alarm and
about a gallon of coffee before 10 a.m.

The morning of the recent Honor Flight was different. I was wide-awake at 3 a.m., anticipating a wonderful trip and great experience with my new friend Andy Antonelle, a WWII veteran and former Army Air Corps B-24 ball turret gunner.

I had been in contact with Andy and his wife quite a few times after meeting them at
our Honor Flight orientation the month before. Despite the obvious generation and age difference, we were both excited to be on this trip together and were bonding quite well.

When we met at the Wickham Park Senior Center that morning, there was excitement in
the air and we were pumped up. Members from team Patrick, Honor Flight staff, WWII veterans and their family and friends were all talking about the day ahead and hearing the veterans' stories. remarkable stories about their time of service and the things they experienced.

Around 5:45 a.m., 25 veterans and 25 uniformed service members serving as their
"guardians," along with a few Honor Flight staff boarded the bus to head to Orlando.

We left Wickham Park amongst cheers, a formation and salute from Patrick AFB's finest
and a Brevard police motorcycle team escorted us all the way to the Orlando Airport for the start of an awesome day.

At the airport, we were greeted with coffee and breakfast before boarding the plane that
would take us to Washington D.C. We were pumped!

The experience in D.C. was amazing. We went to the Air Force memorial. awesome.
We saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. ridiculously

And finally, we went to the WWII memorial, their memorial. unexplainable.

I don't think that any of us can truly understand the amount of treasure that was lost
during that war and to be there with Andy was very humbling.

At the end of the trip, the Honor Flight staff executed a "mail call" and handed out mail to
the veterans written by their family and friends.

Andy received more letters than I have received in my life. Among those letters was
one from Andy's sister and enclosed in that letter was a personally embroidered handkerchief that Andy had sent to her while he was in WWII. 70 years earlier.

That moment, at the end of such an amazing day, was very touching and I will never forget Andy's expression when reading that letter. I had a knot in my throat and tried not to tear up but it was too late.

Everywhere we went, it was truly a heroes welcome with people clapping, holding signs,
American flags and saying thank you to our WWII veterans.

Andy is a pretty modest guy and I could tell he was humbled. Honestly, I was just humbled to be with him on this trip. Andy is what we would call a 'snowbird' and comes back and forth from Connecticut, the place he grew up and still calls home.

When he comes back in September, we're going to play golf and, at 86 years young, I
hear he's pretty good and he'll probably beat me. For future Honor Flight events, I encourage you to wake up early and go talk to some of these veterans. Our window of opportunity to honor them and tell them thank you gets narrower by the day. They set the foundation for us to serve a country that would be drastically different if it was not for their courage and sacrifice.