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For LI vets, another round of thanks at Farmingdale reunion

Valerie Field, daughter of Korean War veteran Curtis

Valerie Field, daughter of Korean War veteran Curtis Field, at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Valerie Field said her trip to the nation's war memorials with her dad, a Korean War veteran fighting cancer, brought back her father's old joyful nature.

That May 11 trip to Washington, provided by Honor Flight Long Island, means even more to her now that her father has since died, said Field, 57, of Sea Cliff, on Saturday.

Honor Flight Long Island on Saturday brought together many of the 49 vets who took that flight, free of charge, to present each with a commemorative photo album and another round of applause and appreciation.

"He was fighting pancreatic cancer," Field said of her father, Curtis Field, who lived in Melville. She added about the trip, "It brought him back to me. I hadn't seen him so lighthearted."

 Honor  Flight Long Island started in 2006, not long after the dedication of the World War II Memorial in the nation's capital. Organizers realized that by then, many veterans of that conflict were too old to make the trip on their own. So they decided to help them, raising donations for the journey and providing each with a "guardian" to help them get around.

Valerie Field served as her father's guardian. She talked him into going, seeing that he had been spending most of his time caring for his wife with dementia. 

The Long Island chapter has flown a total of 1,500 vets over 35 trips. It is among 131 Honor Flight chapters across the United States, said Long Island group president Bill Jones.

The trips used to be comprised mostly of World War II vets, but time has taken away so many of them that the flights are now mainly filled with vets of the Korean War, which lasted from June 25, 1950, to July 27, 1953.

For Seymour Spector, 86, a Korean War vet, the group's gift of the daylong trip meant so much. The Wantagh resident said these vets never received the appreciation they deserved.

"For the first time," the Army vet said, "it's recognition that we never had before."

Starting their day at 3 a.m. on May 11, the group flew to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where a motor coach took them to D.C. and the World War II, Korean and Vietnam memorials. They also saw the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier and were greeted by officers from their respective branches.

For many of these Long Islanders, the war shaped their lives, emotionally and professionally. Richard Hedrick, 83, of Holbrook, said the electronics skills he learned repairing radar and sonar in the Korean War helped him as an electronics teacher at East Suffolk BOCES.

Asked about the trip, Hedrick found himself getting choked up.

"Emotional," he said. 

Saturday's ceremony took place at a plane hangar at the American Airpower Museum in Farmingdale, an appropriate setting as the vets and their families sat amid numerous planes from the wars of yesteryear.

Flags were carried by Boy Scout Troop 244 of Rocky Point, which also helped hand out the photo albums to the vets. Nassau County Executive Laura Curran showed up and said, "There's no way we can repay our debt to our veterans, but that's no reason not to try."

Three days after Curtis Field returned from the Washington trip, his wife, Diane, died. He passed away six weeks later. He was 86, his daughter said.

On Saturday, Valerie Field stepped forward to receive her father's photo album of the trip. The moderator talked about his Air Force service  during the  Korean War in North Africa and Germany .

The U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Band played taps.

And as the slow, piercing notes floated across the old plane hangar, Valerie Field raised a hand to wipe away her tears, first from one eye and then the other.

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