Local Vets Celebrated During Capital Trip

From left in back are Jim Sullivan Jr, Jim Sullivan Sr, Brenton Wilcox, Ron Hart, Steve Cass, Mel Feather, and Linda Shields. From left in front are Justin Macaluso, Bob Miller, Art Christian, Bill Cass, Angelo Bonta, and Steve LaVoice. Chuck Erbsmehl and Andrew Keddie are not pictured. Photo by Barb Cessna

A journey began for local Korean War and World War II veterans on a recent Friday morning. Their journey would take them to Buffalo, then a quick flight to the nation’s capital for a day of trips to war memorials.

This was the eighth all-inclusive trip on behalf of the Buffalo Niagara Honor Flight, with trips taking place in the summer and fall. Nine Honor Flights were organized around the country as well.

The group left Jamestown early on a Saturday morning, following a meet-and-greet the evening before. Upon arrival at the Buffalo Airport, hundreds of people were there to send the veterans off, with the group growing to 50 or so veterans flying to Washington. And throughout the rest of the trip, hundreds of people gathered in celebration of these veterans.

“I’ve never shook so many people’s hands,” James Sullivan said, who wasn’t the only veteran that was displaying admiration to the warmth that he had felt during the trip.

Being the lone World War II Veteran in attendance from Chautauqua County, Angelo Bonta said this was a “very emotional trip” for him. He was drafted in 1945 into the Navy. The 1945 Class was aptly titled the “War Class,” as the draftees entered the war the same year that it ended. He had been training as a firefighter in the military, due to the Japanese using bomber planes.

“The reception that we received was wonderful,” Sullivan said.

Sullivan was in the 3rd Infantry Division of the Army, serving in Korea from 1952-54. He was also a recipient of the Purple Heart, as he was wounded in battle on July 13, 1953, and had spent a number of weeks at a hospital in Japan recovering.

That sentiment appeared to be shared among all eight of the regional veterans in attendance. Most of the veterans served during those two aforementioned wars, but some Vietnam veterans were also brought along, particularly veterans who have fallen into poor health.

Bill Cass served as a first lieutenant in the Army from 1952-54, in Korea during March of 1953. That was also the same year that major conflicts in the war ended. He added that over 100,000 people were in attendance in the capitol. Cass said he really appreciated the Changing of the Guard ceremony at the “Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.”

Robert Miller, who served in the Army from 1954-56, said that this memorial was “very impressive.” These complementary remarks were shared by other veterans as well.

Arthur Christian is holding a photo of Kenneth Nelson, son of Karen Christian and stepson of Art. Kenneth perished in 1985 when a plane loaded with 101st Airborne crashed in Newfoundland, Canada, just before on Dec 12, 1985. There were no survivors, all 248 U.S. servicemen and eight crew members died. Photo by Barb Cessna

Arthur Christian served in the Navy during the Korean War. “It was wonderful, people were so kind to us,” he said.

Charles Erbsmehl served during Korea. He was able to meet and shake hands with former Senator Bob Dole.

Dole was greeting veterans throughout the day that Saturday, and Erbsmehl was told that Dole routinely does this throughout the year, even at his age of 96.

“It was a terrific experience,” Erbsmehl said. “Any veteran who has the chance to go on this trip should.”

Ron Hart, who served in the Navy from 1950 to 1954, was in agreement. It had been 40 years since Hart was last in the nation’s capital. The Air Force Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and the Pentagon had been added since, and he said that they were all amazing.

They traveled on three different buses while in the capitol, one was red, another white and the last one blue. Clearly painted in a patriotic manner, this was also done to help track down the correct bus to return to after visiting a memorial.

Steven LaVoice, who served in the Airforce from 1950-54, said that he really liked the Pentagon Memorial, detailing the design and meaning behind the design of it.

He added that the organizers really did a, “terrific job,” citing the overall ease and efficiency of the tour.

There were bagpipe performances upon their return, as well as gift bags given by the Buffalo Bills that included a framed copy of a photo they had taken earlier in the day. The veterans were also given thoughtful cards from all sorts of people around the country.

Sponsors included the Buffalo Bills and M&T Bank, with Chautauqua County Veterans Services providing transportation and the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation for sponsoring the local Vets Finding Vets. Barb Cessna, project coordinator of Vets Finding Vets, said that none of what they do would be possible without CRCF.

For other veterans who are interested, Vets Finding Vets has coffee meet-ups every second Saturday of the month at the Fenton, 73 Forest Ave., from 10 a.m. to noon. They can be emailed at veterans@fentonhistorycenter.org, or by phone 664-6256.


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