'You gave hope to the world with these four words: The Americans are coming!'

Patrick Labanowski will remember Honor Flight 21 for the rest of his life

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  • Patrick Labanowski at Stewart Airport (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Joan Labanowski and son Thomas (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Mary Kay Messenger escorts a veteran (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • A warm and patriotic send-off for veterans (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Frank Kimler, Honor Flight chair, addresses the crowd at Stewart (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

  • Two veterans who died before the trip, U.S. Army Pfc. Edward A. Lucas (World War II) and U.S. Army Pfc. Lowell T. Hulse, Sr. (Korean War), were represented by members of their family and in portraits held by members of the Air Force. (Photo by Ginny Privitar)

By Ginny Privitar

— The sights and sounds of the event were thrilling and inspiring.

As dawn broke, two hundred motorcyclists rode two by two in an escort motorcade that stretched forever in front of four buses carrying Veterans and their guardians to Stewart Airport for the 21st Hudson Valley Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. There were police escorts and servicemen in dress uniform were stationed at different corners at the airport, saluting the vets as they rode up to the front of the passenger terminal.

Outside, lining the sidewalk were hundreds of family members, friends and well-wishers, clapping, shouting, and waving signs and American flags to greet the vets as they disembarked. A pipe and drum band in full regalia played them a welcome.

After all the vets were brought inside and seated, the entire baggage area surrounding them was standing room only. It was an amazing experience to be part of a crowd united with one aim — to honor our veterans. Joan Labanowski of Goshen was there to see her husband Patrick off, along with sons P.J. and Thomas, who would be Patrick's guardian for the trip. Master Sgt. Mary Kay Messenger sang the national anthem and "God Bless America."

Several dignitaries spoke, including Tom Urtz from ShopRite, a major sponsor of Hudson Valley Honor Flight; Jennifer DeFrancesco, executive director; and Frank Kimler, chairman of Honor Flight. Kimler gave a moving speech.

"Welcome veterans," he said. "You defined peace and gave hope to the world with these four words: The Americans are coming! Today, because of you, each and every one of you, all of Europe is free, the Pacific is free and thank God, America is free."

Two veterans who had signed up for the flight sadly passed before the date: U.S. Army Pfc. Edward A. Lucas (World War II) and U.S. Army Pfc. Lowell T. Hulse, Sr. (Korean War). They were represented by members of their family and in portraits held by members of the Air Force. Kimler also spoke about their service and sacrifice. A military band played the songs of each branch of the service.

'Speechless'Patrick Labanowski, a Korean conflict-era veteran from Goshen who went on the trip, shared his experiences with The Chronicle.

He recalled everyone saluting them and thanking them, at Stewart and in Washington, D.C. When they arrived at Dulles Airport in D.C. there were two fire trucks that showered the plane with a water canon salute. They were welcomed again in the airport, where Labanowski was touched by the affection everywhere they went and by the sight of Scouts in uniform saluting him. Patrick's son Thomas said, "He couldn't believe it. He was speechless."

Then they were whisked by bus, under police escort, to all the memorials.

When the vets got off the bus, they saw former Senator Bob Dole. Many, including Labanowski shook hands with him and took photos.

"I went up to him and I said, 'Thank you for your service.'" Labanowski said. "And he looked at me and said, 'What about your service?'"

The veterans toured the World War II, Korean and Vietnam monuments to our servicemen and women. They also saw the Washington monument and had luncheon at the Holiday Inn.

Labanowski was impressed with the Korean monument: "There were statues of soldiers coming through the brush; they looked real — there were at least 20 soldiers."

At the Lincoln Memorial, there was a brief ceremony with a contingent of Marines, where they honored the two veterans who didn't live to take the trip.

"It's breathtaking," Labanowski said. "I'll remember it for the rest of my life."

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