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Veterans take first trips to war memorials after pandemic halted flights

World War II veterans gather for their honorary

World War II veterans gather for their honorary flight to Washington, D.C., at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma on Sunday. Credit: Morgan Campbell

At the age of 100, World War II veteran Louis Peretz has seen more than most.

But the Commack resident had never been to Washington, D.C., or set his eyes on the World War II Memorial designed to honor him.

That changed on Sunday when he and eight other World War II veterans were flown down to the nation’s capital from Long Island MacArthur Airport as part of an Honor Flight Long Island journey.

"It’s a real honor," said Peretz, who was in the Air Force servicing B-25 fueling planes in India during the war and said he always wanted to see the memorial as well as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. "When they told me I was going, I thought 'I’ll finally get to see it before I go.' "

Honor Flight Long Island is part of a national network that flies veterans from around the country to the memorials for free.

Bill Jones, president of Honor Flight Long Island, said the group usually organize two flights a year, but Sunday’s trip was the first since the fall of 2019 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"This is a day to show them how much we appreciate what they have done," Jones said. "They are truly the greatest generation — they are so humble."

A large U.S. flag, held by two firetrucks, greeted the veterans as they entered MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. An honor guard accompanied them once they arrived at the terminal and several elected officials addressed them before the late morning flight.

"I never had so much attention in my life," laughed Eleanor Rizzuto, a 100-year-old veteran from Franklin Square who was a first lieutenant nurse for the U.S. Army.

Rizzuto served in North Africa for a year "with Rommel giving us a hard time," she said referring to Erwin Rommel, the general from Nazi Germany who battled with U.S. and allied forces. She spent the rest of the war serving with troops throughout Italy.

"It was a rough war, I tell you," she said. "But this is exciting. It’s wonderful to be with these boys that were there. They know what it’s like."

Dominick Critelli, a 100-year-old veteran from Floral Park, said he was also looking forward to his first trip to Washington, D.C.

Critelli was a staff sergeant in the U.S. Army, an airplane and engine mechanic who helped get supplies to soldiers during the siege of Bastogne in Belgium.

"I’m all excited about it," he said of the trip that also included, time permitting, a visit to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial.

"I go into a store and people say 'Thank You,' " Critelli said. "I think people are realizing these guys did a good job. Thank God we won."

Other veterans taking part in the trip included: Vincent DePalo, an Air Force sergeant from Bethpage; Constantine Efthimiades, an Army corporal from Whitestone; Robert Leslie Arms, a Navy seaman first class from Carle Place; Stephen Samsel, a Navy motor machinist's mate from Fairfield, Connecticut; Vincent Tolve, an Army corporal from Mastic Beach; and Eugene Zanger, a corporal and company clerk for the Army's road-building 42nd Engineers Construction Battalion, from Massapequa.

CORRECTION: Eleanor Rizzuto's last name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.

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