ROCHESTER — With a large crowd buzzing in anticipation, the scene Sept. 11 was not unlike a major sporting event or rock concert. And, just like at those venues, the buzz gave way to big ovations when the featured attractions appeared.
In this instance, the adulation wasn’t for athletic or musical icons. Rather, it was for people whose admirers consider them to be heroes in the truest sense of the word.
Some 57 U.S. military veterans and their escorts processed through the Frederick Douglass Greater Rochester International Airport terminal as family members, fellow veterans, volunteers and other well-wishers lined up to cheer them on. Many waved American flags, displayed signs of thanks, took pictures, and offered handshakes and hugs. Meanwhile, a band blared out patriotic tunes.
The festive early-afternoon reception marked the veterans’ return from a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., courtesy of Honor Flight Rochester Inc. There, they visited several military memorial sites and were treated to hotel and meal accommodations.
One honoree, Frank Borrelli Jr., said the weekend — which he spent accompanied by his granddaughter, Ashley Biryla — couldn’t have turned out any better.
“Everything was phenomenal — the food, the camaraderie, the atmosphere,” stated Borrelli, 91, a parishioner of St. Lawrence in Greece who is a Korean War veteran.
Honor Flight missions began in Rochester in 2008
Honor Flight originated in 2005 and has grown into a national network of more than 130 regional hubs, including 10 in New York state. Rochester joined the coalition in 2008 and has staged a total of 75 Honor Flight missions involving more than 3,500 area veterans, according to the Honor Flight Rochester website.
Veterans from all military branches — Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines and Coast Guard — are eligible for Honor Flight. First priority is given to veterans from earlier eras such as World War II and the Korean War, as well as those with significant illnesses. All applicants are eventually accommodated, in keeping with Honor Flight Rochester’s tagline of “We Leave No Veteran Behind.”
“As long as you were in the service, you go,” noted Peter Maddalena, a longtime Honor Flight volunteer.
Honor Flight Rochester is a not-for-profit, all-volunteer organization that does extensive fundraising so it can offer free flights to veterans. Escorts, or guardians — typically family members — are asked to cover their own expenses.
A typical Honor Flight season involves six missions. This past year, a total of approximately 300 veterans took part in missions conducted April 2-3, May 21-22, June 18-19, Sept. 10-11, Oct. 1-2 and Oct. 22-23. They marked the first local Honor Flights in three years due to pandemic-related postponements.
Honor Flight weekends in Washington stir veterans’ memories and emotions
On the weekend of Sept. 10-11, veterans left Rochester on an early-morning Saturday flight and arrived home just before noon the following day. A large fleet of volunteers, including many past Honor Flight recipients, were on hand to assist with the departure and return.
Maddalena noted that he was flown to Washington in 2015 and has volunteered ever since. He served in the Army from 1953 to 1955 as a private first class in Germany.
Another volunteer on Sept. 11 who also has flown on the Honor Flight is Frank Trovato — who, like Maddalena, belongs to Irondequoit’s St. Kateri Tekakwitha Parish. Trovato, who logged Army duty from 1971 to 1974, said it was important to visit the memorials in Washington and recall his experiences as a military policeman in Vietnam.
“It brings back memories — sometimes good, sometimes bad,” he remarked.
Borrelli, meanwhile, said he loved mingling with fellow veterans during his recent Honor Flight weekend — yet his mind also flickered back to heavy fighting with the Army in 1950 and 1951 in Korea, where he was a sergeant first class for the infantry weapons platoon.
Asked if he became emotional during the weekend, Borrelli replied, “Very much so.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Honor Flight applications for veterans and guardians are available at www.HonorFlightRochester.org. Donations can be made on the website as well. For details, call 585-210-2115.