By Marianne Neifeld
Theirs was a time to remember.
Three Hyde Park veterans of World War II — Ralph Osterhoudt, Sr., 88; Alphred Genovese, 91, and Primo Calabrese, 90 — recently reminisced about an experience that stands as one of the most significant in their lives.
It was not war-time memories they were recalling, however. It was the very first Hudson Valley Honor Flight trip, which all three took two years ago to Washington, D.C.
The Hudson Valley Honor Flight is a chapter of the nonprofit National Honor Flight Network, whose mission is to transport American veterans, free of charge, to Washington, D.C. to view the war memorials erected in honor of their sacrifices. Its fourth flight took place last month, with 100 veterans from Dutchess, Ulster, and surrounding counties making the 12-hour trip.
The three veterans, who first met after the war at the American Legion in Hyde Park, where they are members, recalled their trip as one continuous ovation by people grateful for their service.
“This was the first time we were ever honored even after coming home from the war,” said Calabrese, who was a tank gunner and corporal who fought in Europe.
“The way the people came out and met us at all hours of the day and night, and that result was never given to anyone coming home,” Osterhoudt added. He was a Private First Class who fought in the Battle of the Bulge under General George Patton.
“We were treated like the King of Siam,” Genovese said. Genovese served in the Air Force as an airplane mechanic in the South Pacific and later was a machinist in the Navy.
Even the motorcade escort to the charter flight out of Stewart International Airport in Newburgh amazed them. “There must’ve been a hundred motorcycles,” said Osterhoudt, “with flags and lights.”
Waiting at the airport were a throng of supporters.
And when they landed in Washington, “the fire trucks came out, remember that?” said Osterhoudt. “An umbrella of water flew over the plane and welcomed us in. There were bands playing, and hundreds of people there to meet us.”
Accolades from participants of the recent April 26 flight were similar. “Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” said Arthur Wolstein, 99, of Westchester. “I was hesitant to go originally, but I’m happy I went. It was a once in a lifetime experience,” he said.
The Hudson Valley Honor Flights, which are funded by private donations (including over $65,000 from Shoprite Corporation since 2012), provide one volunteer “guardian” to assist every two veterans, and future flights will have one guardian for each veteran.
“They gave us whatever we needed,” said Calabrese. ”It made you feel good, taken care of.”
And in return, the trip “closes the circle,” all three said.
“When you go there, and you lost buddies, as we did, and you see a star there, and that star represents him; it’s important that closure is made,” Osterhoudt added.
Because the World War II memorial was only opened in 2004, many WWII veterans have never seen it, and time is of the essence. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that 640 WWII veterans die every day, which is why the Honor Flights focus on that war’s veterans first.
All three local men said they had never wanted to speak about the war after returning home.
“The things you remembered… you wouldn’t want to tell people about the bad things that happened,” said Calabrese.
As for Osterhoudt, he’s heading to Normandy this month, which marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, to close the circle on his time serving there during the war.
“That’s very important to me…That also makes this whole thing a closure,” he said.
The Hudson Valley Honor Flight will have its fifth flight on Sept. 27. WWII veterans can sign up by visiting the website, www.hvhonorflight.com or by calling (845) 391-0076 to get an application by mail. Donations can be made at http://hvhonorflight.com/donate/.
They are also seeking donations of wheelchairs with foot rests. Contact Fred at 845-325-9195.