Friday, October 18, 2013

Honor Flight to Washington

This past spring while attending a dinner for the 100 Club I had the honor of sitting with several former Fire Chiefs who are also decorated Viet Nam veterans.  Former Chief of Warwick Fire  and Brad Preston who sponsored the table pulled me aside. They wanted to speak to me about the Providence Police Department Pipes and Drums attending an Honor Flight and following the Veterans down to Washington.

As you all know, Jerry's sons and daughters decided on Honor Flight for donations to be made in Jerry's name.  For me this was a no brainer.

This event is being hosted and funded by several entities including the Rhode ISland Fire Chiefs Association and Ocean State Job Lot.

We have already played at two Honor Flights so far this year.  In fact George Farrell of the RIFCA had reached out to the band on a "feeler" to see if we would be willing.

Roger Aspinal who is President and myself as Vice President were excited.  The fact the other people were approaching us indicated the high interest.

Brad Preston is a United States Army Special Forces NCO veteran of the Cold War and is the Special Forces Association Chapter President.  Tom Rowan is a US Army Special Forces Officer who served in Viet Nam and was the  Commander of Company A 2nd Battalion 19th Special Forces Group.

Everything was moving forward.  Band members were extremely excited about participating in this event.    We would be doing what is called a massed band event with the RI Professional Firefighters Pipes and Drums for the Honor flight. We had been playing together for these events n the past.

Both Bands agreed to practice together and we worked almost every week to tune, march and tighten up both bands.  One of our Band Mates Father who is a retired Battalion Chief in Providence would join us as a Guardian and escort for one of the Vets.

Things were moving full speed when tragedy struck the Providence Police in August.  Our own Tenor Drummer Officer John Raposa was killed in a traffic accident in Jamestown, RI while off duty.

John's father was committed more then ever to the Honor Flight.

Things began moving fast and September 28th arrived quicker then we realized.  What an outstanding day.  I met with numerous Veterans.  Men and Women.

We marched them down to the Gate at TF Green.  We had a chance to meet and greet with the Veterans.  They were soon off.  We followed off soon after and arrived in BWI before them.  Not sure how that happened.

The Vets were met at the Airport by the Honor Flight Ground Crew at BWI.  Military Units from all Service Branches were present to meet the Vets.  An Airforce Band was playing hits from the 1940's!

We moved quickly to the bus and were off to DC escorted by the United States Park Police with Motorcycle units and marked Vehicles.

Arriving at the Memorial was quite a sight.  I had been to DC with Jerry in February 2002. The construction was just beginning on the site.

Carl Weston, Manny Soares and Bob Boehm all looked at me and we shared a moment.  Carl Weston spoke and said. " You know Jerry would have loved all this.  Wish he was still with us to take all this in.  He would have had us all laughing."  Yes he would most certainly would have.

Soon the Pipe Majors and Drum Majors went down to the site to figure out where and what we would be doing for the festivities.    We would march in and play a short set to gather everyones attention and then march back out.   Once all the RI Vets arrived we would March them in to Scotland The Brave.

We would play the Military Set.  Several VIPs were to speak.  General Colin Powell was on hand to speak as well as the RI Congressional Delegation.  Also present was Robert Dole.  Veteran US ARMY officer with the 10th Mountain Division.  Senator Dole was wounded in action in Italy.

Events moved forward rapidly and we were soon marching the Vets in.  It was a humbling experience.

Det. Clarence Gough of the PPD photographed the event and you can see lots of great shots on a FB look that Steve has provided in an earlier post.

I met with several Veterans.  Of course everyone wants a photo with the guy in the Fuzzy Bonnet.  I had a group of veterans from Long Island approach me.   They wanted me to pose with them with some band members.  I said sure but wouldn't you want to pose with the Dignitaries and Politicians.

Veterans of that Era have no filter.  Much as Jerry was, they speak thier mind.  "Son I have nothing in common with any of those people.  I have more in common with you and the Cops and firefighters.  We want a picture with you fellows.  You came all the way from Providence to play for us.  That speaks volumes.  No get it down son."  Whoops.  Yes Sir!   I gathered up a crew and we posed for quite a few photos.

The Commandant of the Marine Corps came afterwards with his Command Staff.  We were soon off and moving back to the Hilton at the airport for a lunch.  We played for the Veterans at the front of the Hotel as they arrived.

I was introduced to a Veteran who was from Long Island.  His escort was a retired Suffolk Count Police Officer.  The Veteran Named Cookie, was a B17 Ball Turret Gunner who flew 51 missions in the Pacific.  He flew from Saipan, Tinian and later Iwo Jima.  My head snapped around.  Jerry had Assault landed at those tree Island.  I brought this gentleman over and into the circle while the band played. I handed him the mace and he kept time.
 He hugged me and looked at me and said "Thanks I appreciated that."

The band had to scarf food quickly as we had an early flight out.  We got back to Warwick and then went over to Doherty's Ale House and met with Fans of  The Bands and family members.

We gathered up both bands and then marched into the Bar.  Military Set, Amazing Grace, The Balmoral and Rakes of Mallow.    We were done.

We will be playing another Honor Flight coming up soon.

Additionally both Bands will be playing at the Salute to Veterans at Waterfire.  That same night we will be heading to Newport to play at O'Brien's for a fundraiser for Rhode Island Fire Chiefs Association for Honor Flight.

This will take place on Saturday 9 November 2013.

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