Saturday, December 2, 2023

Honor Flight San Diego’s Tribute to America’s Veterans

Story by Janina Lamoglia
Fleet Readiness Center Southwest

Veterans Day, a significant day of remembrance in the United States, stands as a testament to the valor and dedication of those who have served in the U.S. military. Born from the ashes of World War I, this day, originally termed Armistice Day, marked the end of the Great War on November 11, 1918. As years progressed and further conflicts emerged, the commemoration expanded to honor all veterans, leading to its present-day title. The U.S. military has played a significant role in shaping the nation’s history and preserving its freedoms. As such, Veterans Day not only offers a moment to reflect upon the sacrifices of service members, but also serves as a poignant reminder of the price of liberty and the importance of acknowledging those who have borne its cost. This day reinforces the timeless truth: freedom is never free, and gratitude towards its guardians is eternally owed.

Building on this spirit of reverence, organizations like Honor Flight San Diego (HFSD) work tirelessly to show tangible appreciation to these heroes. As a distinguished part of the expansive Honor Flight Network, HFSD operates with over 130 dedicated “hubs” nationwide. Their noble mission is fueled by the generous donations of individuals, foundations, and businesses that aim to recognize and express gratitude for the unparalleled sacrifices of our veterans. They offer a unique experience—escorting these heroes to Washington, D.C., to witness the memorials created in their honor. The organization’s ethos places the utmost emphasis on our oldest veterans—those who served during World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—as well as those facing terminal illnesses. World War II was a crucible, challenging not just our military might, but our very ethos as a diverse and free society. Shortly on the heels of WWII, the Korean War veterans answered the call of duty, serving in a conflict often relegated to the archives of forgotten history. Their valor, too, begs acknowledgment before time slips away. The Vietnam War, mired in controversy and public dissent, saw its veterans return to a nation divided. Now, decades later, it is our collective responsibility to offer the overdue appreciation they deserve, mending the rift and saluting their unwavering commitment. As we extend our profound thanks to all veterans, a special nod to our eldest protectors is essential. They have been the barricade, ensuring the liberties we cherish in the United States of America remain intact. In inviting veterans to embark on this “Tour of Honor,” HFSD also hopes that the broader community will contribute, helping to craft memories for these revered men and women.

The journey with HFSD is more than just a visit to the memorials; it is a bridge to stories and memories. One such story belongs to FRCSW Logistics Management Specialist, Melanie (Lanie) Taitano, a devoted member of HFSD.

“I am the daughter of a Vietnam veteran. My dad served two tours, and Carlos Taitano, my husband, served with the Army for twenty years. I’ve always been passionate about honoring our veterans, given my history with the Family Readiness Group, volunteering in the military community, and my roles in both the church and martial arts training on the base.” Taitano said.

Taitano’s commitment extends back over a decade with HFSD, not only volunteering, but also serving on the board of directors. Her passion for the cause is deeply personal, further fueled by her family’s legacy. “My step-grandpa was a WWII veteran. My father also served two tours in Vietnam, but passed away about four years ago, right before he could embark on the ‘Tour of Honor’ with HFSD. The significance of my father’s service became even more evident after discovering that he was a door gunner in an elite squadron, the HA(L)-3 Seawolves, through a documentary titled ‘Scramble the Seawolves’.”

The heartfelt journey of recognition and honor becomes especially moving when we consider the experiences of Vietnam veterans. Taitano elaborates, “Our Vietnam veterans never received the homecoming they deserved. They faced a divided nation on their return, sometimes met with disdain. It becomes emotional for me, thinking about their sacrifices.”

Her father’s story, intertwined with the legacy of the HA(L)-3 Seawolves and their significance in Vietnam, became a catalyst. “When HFSD was brainstorming the transition to honor Vietnam veterans, we decided to pay tribute to the Seawolves for our first all-Vietnam special flight. Unfortunately, my father passed away just before this event.”

Such stories underline the urgency and significance of organizations like HFSD. They offer a window into the lives of the people who strive to honor veterans in any way they can. For Taitano, the drive is clear – it is deeply personal, a tribute to her father, her family, and every veteran who deserves recognition.

Taitano’s passion for honoring veterans is unmistakable. Each time she speaks at one of the HFSD events it is a testament to her unwavering dedication to ensuring that their stories live on, that they receive the recognition deserved, and that their sacrifices are never forgotten.

In one instance, Taitano recalled a holocaust survivor who had also fought in the Korean War. The weight of his journey, from the dark days of Auschwitz to serving in another war for his adopted country, was staggering. He was just one of many heroes Taitano had met.

Another story involves a father-son duo, both veterans, who had served in Vietnam at the same time. The father, a veteran of three wars, had a heart-stopping moment when he saw his injured son during their tour. Such tales are not isolated incidents. Taitano has heard countless stories, each more emotional than the last.

Honor Flight San Diego’s tradition of folding the flag at the Vietnam Memorial for terminal Vietnam veterans is a beautiful gesture to honor their service and sacrifice. These ceremonies serve as a profound reminder of the cost of freedom.

Every one of these HFSD trips takes meticulous planning and organization. Safety and comfort for the veterans are paramount, ensuring that even those with mobility challenges can participate. Taitano praised the guardians, volunteers who accompany the veterans, for their dedication.

A key aspect of Honor Flight San Diego’s mission is to ensure that the stories of the veterans are preserved for future generations. Events like Spirit of 45, a successful HFSD affair, where efforts are made to document veterans’ stories, are extremely important.

Taitano’s love for the veterans is deeply personal. Beyond the trips, the ceremonies, and the events, it is about ensuring that every veteran felt seen, honored, and cherished.

The stories of these men and women are a reminder of the sacrifices made by veterans and the enduring gratitude of those who strive to honor them. As Veterans Day approaches, it is these tales of heroism, resilience, and dedication that should take center stage, helping to ensure that their legacy lives on for generations to come. The narratives of valor and sacrifice, such as those preserved by Honor Flight San Diego remind us that our gratitude must extend beyond words into acts of remembrance and recognition. These stories are not just echoes of the past, but are integral to the enduring legacy of courage that shape our national identity. As we reflect on the freedoms we cherish, let us renew our commitment to honor, in every way we can, the men and women who have served our country with dedication, ensuring that their sacrifices are never forgotten and their stories are told for generations to come.

Story by Janina Lamoglia
Fleet Readiness Center Southwest


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Managing Editor
Managing Editor
Originally from upstate New York, Dani Schwartz has lived in Coronado since 1996. She is happy to call Coronado home and to have raised her children here. In her free time she enjoys reading, exercising, trying new restaurants, and just walking her dog around the "island." Have news to share? Send tips or story ideas to: [email protected]

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