Three Friends, Three WWII and Honor Flight Veterans

Jack Hennessy’s handshake is still very strong at age
89. This enduring strength might be attributed to the rigorous training he
received decades ago as a member of the Glider Corps, a little-known part of
101st Airborne Division during World War II.

Last May, the father of four and grandfather of 10
received many firm handshakes of gratitude when he took an all-expenses-paid day
trip to Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Honor Flight Network. Hennessy is
just one of 63,000 veterans of WWII and the Korean and Vietnam wars who have
taken an Honor Flight since 2005 to see the monuments built for their
sacrifices. The nonprofit organization is fighting against time to bring all
able WWII veterans on this trip.

“People were rushing up to thank me. People I didn’t
know from a pile of brooms were lining up to shake my hand. It was all very
moving,” said the Victor resident of the Legacy at the Fairways, about the
reception he received during his trip

Eight WWII veterans living at the Fairways have been on
Honor Flights, including Hennessy’s friends Bill Ryan and Ted Vangellow.

For each trip, the men were picked up in a limousine for an early morning
flight. They visited key monuments as well as Arlington National Cemetery for
the changing of the guard. They were treated to a dinner at the Washington
Hilton Hotel before their trip home.

Vangellow, who went in June 2010, said he was
overwhelmed at the recognition and appreciation he received from the public at
the monuments.

“People knew who we were because of our orange shirts. When we visited the
Iwo Jima memorial, a group of high school students sang ‘Amazing Grace’ to us.
That was a real tear-jerker,” said Vangellow, who served in the U.S. Air Force
in Europe.

Hennessy served in the 101st Airborne in a lesser-known
unit called the Glider Corps. All major invasions and operations of the war,
including the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, were heavily reliant on the
Glider Corps to fly supplies in behind enemy lines.

Hennessy said he “gets a little upset” that not many
people today know about the courageous contributions of the Glider Corps. The
paratroopers in the 101st Airborne were considered to be elite troops and
received extra compensation for their hazardous missions. The glider troops,
however, had duties just as dangerous, but got no extra pay.

(Page 2 of 2)

Hennessy enlisted in the Army in 1942 after he
graduated from Aquinas High School. He left in August 1943 for Europe, where he
helped set up camps in England in advance of the invasion of Normandy.

“The physical training to be a glider was pretty
grueling. We were up and working by 5 a.m. In the beginning, I thought it would
kill me, but I ended up in the best shape of my life.”

One exercise he remembers in particular was digging a
foxhole with his regiment. It had to have a roof strong enough to withstand the
weight of a tank driving over it.

“Our foxhole made it. The guys next to us, theirs fell
through, but they got out OK,” he said.

Though Hennessy spent many hours practicing in the gliders, he never went
into battle. However, many of his compatriots were killed in the Battle of
Normandy, as well as on the frontlines around Dusseldorf, Germany.

When the war ended in Europe in May 1945, Hennessey
spent additional months abroad studying at the American University in the
seaside resort city of Biarritz, France.

“The U.S. military took over all the town’s fancy
hotels and that’s where we slept. After sleeping for years in tents in old cots
during the war, it was heaven to lie down in a real bed with soft sheets,” said
Hennessey, who added that he loved being treated like a student and not like a

When he returned to the United States, he earned his
bachelor’s degree on the GI Bill at Syracuse University. He was 27 years old. He
met the woman who would become his wife, Veronica, and they raised four children
in the Rochester area. They were married for 58 years before she passed away in

Hennessey said although it is not like having one’s own
home, he enjoys his lifestyle at the Fairways, especially the friendship of
Ryder, Vangellow and other seniors he has met. They share meals in the dining
room, play bingo and cards, and go on trips to the Finger Lakes and Niagara

Hennessy is fighting another fight against cancer and
said that he is lucky that his daughter lives nearby in Fairport to take him to
his treatments.

As the country waits to bring home its next generation
of veterans from Iraq, the three WWII veterans also stand together in their
opinion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We have no business being there for so long. We have
lost too many good people,” said Hennessey.

They wish for the returning veterans an easy transition back to civilian

Stacy Gittleman is a freelance writer from

About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

3 responses to “Three Friends, Three WWII and Honor Flight Veterans”

  1. Emily Gooch says :

    Thank you for sharing the amazing stories of these brave soldiers.


  2. Munira says :

    Beautifully written and a captivating read….I admit to being a bit teary.
    Old people are walking, talking history.


  3. stacylynngittleman says :

    Reblogged this on Stacy Gittleman's blog and commented:

    not sure if these guys are kicking it around in Victor, NY, but it was an honor to interview and write about them. Honor a Veteran Today.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: