By JOHN HOWELL What does Foxwoods and bingo have to do with 60 veterans traveling to the Nation's Capital, visiting the monuments to World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars starting before 5 a.m. and returning after 11 p.m. on a rainy Saturday? The
What does Foxwoods and bingo have to do with 60 veterans traveling to the Nation’s Capital, visiting the monuments to World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars starting before 5 a.m. and returning after 11 p.m. on a rainy Saturday?
The answer, not much, unless you are Peter Ricci and Bill Hancock. Both are veterans. Peter is a Navy veteran who served aboard a minesweeper in preparation to the invasion of Japan in WWII and again aboard a minesweeper in the Korean War. Peter is 101 although that’s not evident.
Bill served in the Vietnam War as a Seabee, operating a rock crusher to build roads.
“We came under mortar attack several times, so I guess you would say I saw action,” he said. He is 79 years old.
Bill served as Peter’s guardian in the first Honor Flight since the pandemic delayed Flight Yankee in March 2020 and Flight Zulu in June 2020. Retired Providence Fire Chief George Farrell and his team of volunteers combined the two flights Saturday, securing all the seats on the early morning flight to Washington National as a precaution to reduce exposure to Covid-19 from outside the group.
Farrell explained the delayed flights took their toll. Some of those signed up for either of the flights now have medical conditions that prevented their attendance, others died before they could share in the recognition for their service.
Peter said Saturday morning as he and other veterans waited to clear security and be escorted to their Southwest gate by the Rhode Island Professional Pipes and Drums that this would be the first time he and his wife, Mary, have been separated.
“She’s sitting in my apartment back home,” Peter said. They married 20 years ago after his first wife of 60 years died.
“It was good,” he said of his first marriage, “so I took a second shot.” He’s happy he did. Apart from a few problems with his eyes and hearing, Peter is in good physical shape. He said he takes one pill a day to keep his doctor happy. He still drives and recently bought a Kia. He said he’s not ready to go electric…not just yet.
Bill and Peter laugh. They do that often.
Surely that’s the case on their visits to Foxwoods once or twice a week to have something to do. Mary goes along as does Bill’s wife, Donna.
“We’re not gamblers,” says Peter. Bill nods his agreement.
Such familiarity between guardian and veteran is not unusual. Family members and close friends often serve as guardians. On Saturday’s flight, 17 of the guardian were also veterans making for a total of 77 veterans.
A WWII Navy aviator John Romano - he flew torpedo bombers off aircraft carriers - was accompanied by his son of the same name. John retired from the Navy after 27 years of service going on to be elected a state Representative and then a Senator while helping run the family business, Pal’s Restaurant in East Greenwich. As WWII vets, John and Peter were in the lead in the procession to the Southwest gate. Passengers waiting to depart on other flights lined the concourse applauding and thanking the veterans for their service.
“The weather was perfect and it went as smoothly as it possibly could,” Farrell said of the flight. There were a few delays prompting Farrell and his team to rearrange the schedule and start the day with a stop at the Air Force Memorial. Six buses were charted for the day with about 30 passengers per bus to keep sufficient distancing. The team also went to lengths to ensure all those on the flight were fully vaccinated. Temperatures were checked and masks worn.
The next stop was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where they watched the changing of the guard and Peter and WWII veteran Robert Champlin Sr. accompanied by RI Honor Flight board members Steve Hay, retired Warwick Deputy Fie Chief and Joseph Glaude, who has served as a medic on most of the 25 honor flights, served as guardians.
The National Grid Veterans Resource Group sponsored Yankee Flight that would have been held in March 2020; Robert Moore and Bob’s Red Mill, natural food company sponsored the Zulu flight. Flight sponsorships run about $15,000 and covers a chunk of costs for the day. RI Honor Flight depends heavily on contributions to cover the rest of expenses. For the most part, guardians pay for their costs. Since Alpha Flight in November 2012, RI Honor Flight has taken 725 veterans and nearly 2,000 people overall to Washington.
As Farrell observes there are usually a few hiccups whether it is the weather, a traffic jam causing a shifting of schedules or even an honor flight from another part of the country. This time it was threat that Farrell and his crew were notified of during the tour. They had a plan for that too. If there had been an emergency, guardians would have wheeled veterans in their wheel chairs to a centrally located building on the Washington Mall.
“I had to gold back tears,” Bill said of the experience Tuesday. “It made my heart swell with pride.” On arriving home, Bill said an estimated 200 firefighters and police in uniform, standing at attention saluted them.
“It’s something I will remember to the day I die,” he said.
As for his role of guardian, Bill said Peter was “a star; he told everybody he was 101.”
Chances are Foxwoods bingo players will hear a lot about it.
The flight will be featured this Friday on Channel 12 at 6:15 p.m. and again on Friday, Nov. 12 at 6:15 p.m.
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