A Whitestone resident was one of nine World War II veterans to take a special trip to visit the nation’s capital on Sunday.
Over 75 years after the end of the war, army veteran Constantine “Gus” Efthimiades, 95, and his fellow distinguished guests had the opportunity to go on the Oct. 3 day trip, where the group visited the World War II Memorial, witnessed the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery, attended a special wreath-laying ceremony and ended with a visit to the Iwo Jima Memorial.
Upon their return to Islip, the nine veterans were met with a welcome by the Long Island Bagpipe Band and a rousing welcome from hundreds of supporters.
The veterans took off from Islip MacArthur Airport with Honor Flight Long Island (HFLI), an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit that has provided free D.C. trips to veterans since its inception in 2005. HFLI’s operation was put on hold during COVID-19 and returned Aug. 15, with the board putting forth a unanimous vote to reinstitute their biannual D.C. flights starting in the spring of 2022.
Many of HFLI’s trips for 2020 and 2021 were canceled and the nine veterans were placed on a waiting list for trips to D.C. The organization reached out to the vets and their families and booked a special one-day flight to the nation’s capital.
“I enjoyed the excitement of the day. I was impressed by the changing of the guards at Arlington Cemetery,” Efithimiades said. “The World War II Memorial was bigger than I expected. I felt really good when they talked about the fighting 69th [my division]. I felt like I belonged with this group of people. I appreciate and thank all the volunteers and organizers who put so much into this and were so helpful. I love the patriotism in the USA!”
Joining Efthimiades was army veteran Dominick Critelli, 100, of Floral Park; army air corps veteran Vincent DePalo, 98, of Bethpage; navy veteran Robert Harms, 95, of Carle Place; army air corps veteran Louis Peretz, 100, of Commack; army nurse Eleanor Rizutto, 100, of Franklin Square; navy veteran Stephen Samsel, 94, of Fairfield, CT; army Air Corps veteran Vincent Tolve, 98, of Mastic Beach; and army veteran Eugene Zanger, 93, of Massapequa.
“Gus Efthimiades and these veterans are part of the greatest generation who fought for and put their lives on the line for our American ideals of freedom and democracy, and upon their return from World War II worked to rebuild our nation and strengthen our communities,” Senator John Liu said. “We owe them a continuing debt of gratitude and I am honored to join the Honor Flight Network in sending them off to our nation’s capital to see the memorial erected in their honor.”
During the war, Newsday reported that Efthimiades was an army corporal who fought in France, Belgium and Germany. Over a decade after the end of WWII, he and his wife Ellen bought a house in Whitestone in 1956, where they still live today.
The pair have been married for 66 years and have three sons, seven grandsons and two great-grandchildren.
“This special Honor Flight gives nine of our ‘Greatest Generation’ Americans an opportunity to contemplate their military memorials, meet representatives of their service branches, commiserate with fellow veterans and exchange WWII stories,” said Bill Jones, president of Honor Flight Long Island. “What the flight really represents is a big hug to these veterans from Honor Flight, their families and all our supporters who make such flights possible.