Veterans welcomed home after embarking on Villages Honor Flight

In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, 35 local veterans  returned home after their Villages Honor Flight trip to Washington D.C. They were welcomed with a rousing cheer from 150 plus people all waving American flags as the veterans disembarked from their buses at American Legion Post 347 in Lady Lake.

Led by the Lady Lake Police Department with sirens blaring and 35 Nomads on roaring motorcycles, it was a sight to behold  Even with the early hour of return, the veterans and their staff were clearly excited and touched by the turnout.

The Honor Flight left Wednesday morning and flew to Washington DC to visit the Veterans memorials. This was the second flight of 2016.

Veterans were welcomed home early Thursday morning.
Veterans were welcomed home early Thursday morning.

Entertainment for the evening included The Villages Twirlers and The Villages Cheerleaders and popular singer Jamie Klatt, a Neil Diamond tribute artist. His rendition of “Coming to America” brought everyone to their feet for that appropriate song.

Second Vice Commander for the American Legion Tom Cruice said the number of people that came at that hour of the morning was amazing. “Everyone seems happy, tired but, happy!” he said.

Liza Walters, coordinator of the Welcome Home festivities was very happy with the crowd, of people that showed up.

“For all these people to come out here to welcome these men and women home is truly remarkable,” she said.

The Villages Twirlers performed at the homecoming rally.
The Villages Twirlers performed at the homecoming rally.

The next flight will be Sept. 7 and we are anxious for that one to take place as well.” she said. “We are already receiving applications.”

One of the returning vets, Ed Donahue who was in the Korean War from 1950-1955, texted his wife after landing in Baltimore, MD with this message: “What a fabulous reception in Baltimore. Not many dry eyes!” His street in the Village of St Charles was lit up with red, white and blue lights and American Flags as a surprise. Donahue’s entire neighborhood came to the ceremony to welcome him home and show their support.

James Fantozzi
James Fantozzi
James Fantozzi in World War II.
James Fantozzi in World War II.

Another of the returning vets on Honor Flight was James Fantozzi from Summerfield, a World War II and Korean War veteran. At 93 years old, he remembers details of his time in the service like it was yesterday.

Fantozzi served in the Navy. He was aboard the USS LCF212 during the Normandy invasion. He also watched the raising of the flag at Iwo Jima, Japan from a mine sweeper. Fantozzi  served in World War II along with his four brothers. Three were Marines and one, along with Fantozzi were Navy Shipmen.  

Fantozzi’s  experience on his first Honor Flight was one he will forever cherish.

“It was wonderful sharing stories with others who lived through the war right along with me.” he said. ” My brothers would have enjoyed this.”

The ceremony ended with the introduction of each veteran that flew on the Honor Flight and a stirring rendition of Taps by the American Legion bugler.

Learn more about Villages Honor Flight by visiting their website here.