Honor Flight Luncheon In New Windsor Honors Hero
And Plans Future Honor Flights
By James R. Formato
Approximately 1:30 PM more than 800 veterans, volunteers, donors, honorees and their families entered the Main Ball Room on Sunday, December 3, for the annual Hudson Valley Honor Flight Luncheon at Anthony’s Pier 9 in New Windsor.
Following the prayer the Candidate Cadets of the United States Military Academy Preparatory School Color Guard conducted the Presentation of Colors. NYPD Highway Patrolman Caesar Munoz sang the National Anthem and the Pledge of Allegiance was led by World War II Veteran and German Prisoner of War, Harvey Horn.
Chairman Kimler provided some additional welcoming remarks and introduced the Keynote Speaker, Rocky Sickmann. Thirty-six years ago, Rocky was in the New Windsor area when he landed at Stewart Field (now known as Stewart International Airport) after he and his fifty-one other Iranian held hostages were released. He asked if any members of the luncheon took part in his welcoming home back in 1981. Many of the attendees rose to indicate they were there.
(Former POW Rocky Sickmann, Committee Chairman Kimler, and Orange County
Sheriff Carl DuBois)
Rocky was a young single US Marine at the time and related the events and activities of what took place on that fateful fourth day of November. He said he had just come off guard duty and was walking toward the front fence of the US Embassy when he heard a large commotion. His radio went off with the alert to return to the armory. At first he did not think anything of the noise and the alert because protests had been taking place for several days. It was not until he looked out passed the main gates did he realize the urgency of the moment. “You see,” he said, “US Embassies are protected by the Army of the host nation, or so I thought. When I did not see any Iranian soldiers out front and the masses climbing over the walls and gates did I take action.” Although the US Marines were outnumbered more than 200 to 1, they were trained to protect the US Embassy, Ambassador and the American workers.
However, they were ordered to “Stand Down and not Fire”, which he regretted not doing at the time. Rocky pointed out where he was stationed in the lower halls of the embassy; protesters broke into the building and were heading his way. He and fellow Marines were shocked when they saw the insurgents were not men but females coming toward them. He stated that the Muslim populace knew that Americans did not shoot women. At this point the Marines put on their gas masks and fired gas grenades into the hallway and were able to escape to the upper areas. Since the command to surrender their arms came from higher echelon, the Marines obeyed their orders.
His life dramatically changed at that moment since the Iranians told their hostages they were not angry with them or the American people but the American government for allowing the deposed Shah to enter the USA for medical treatment and not returning him and his family back to Iran to stand trial. Yet, they were treated as prisoners and subjected to very inhumane punishment. He was very emphatic when he said, “Don’t let anyone kid you, the hatred for America and all Americans does not evolve as Muslims grow, it is instilled in them at very young ages!” “The chants ‘Death to America’ and ‘Death to Americans’ by the children was a constant reminder to us that we could be brutalized and tortured at any time.”
When he was asked what kept him going throughout his ordeal, he responded “my faith, my family and my country. I knew my government would not abandon us even though there were times during the 444 days in captivity I wasn’t sure.”
Eventually, the hostages were returned to the US Embassy compound. Without any outside information reaching them they had no way of knowing that a release had been negotiated. The Iranians came in to their holding areas, marched them out to vehicles that transported them to an airport where an American airline was awaiting their arrival. Rocky said when they were aboard the aircraft they did not see many of their friends. They feared the worse and were extremely hesitant to ask their whereabouts for fear this was still some form of mental torture by the Iranians. Once they were airborne they were informed many of their hostage-friends were already freed and on their way home. After landing in Germany and being checked by medical personnel they had the opportunity to bathe and put on new clean clothing. As Rocky told the audience, “I had the remnants of my pants I originally had on the day we were taken captive.”
Once the released hostages left Germany they were flown to Stewart Field, then bused to Thayer Hotel in West Point. Along the way they were exhilarated to see the warmth of the American people as they lined Temple Hill Road in New Windsor waving American Flags, clapping, holding “Welcome Home” signs and yelling “God Bless You and the USA” to them. “This truly showed us we were never forgotten!” Temple Hill Road acquired a new name this day – Freedom Road.
The families of the released hostages were reunited with them at Thayer Hotel. In closing Rocky made it very clear he could not thank those servicemen enough who had voluntarily sacrificed their lives in the attempt to save his. He concluded with “God bless our veterans and those currently in service and GOD BLESS THE USA!”
Chairman Kimler continued the program with the announcing of the 2017 Honor Flight Honoree Recognition Award winner. This award was presented to the “America the Beautiful Benefit Concert Committee” chaired by Joseph Dembeck and includes Orange County Sheriff Carl E. DuBois, Jimmy Sturr (The Polka King), Patty McKevitt, Elaine Colarieti, Donna Benson, Jack Benson, Barbara DuBois, Dolly Weslowski and Barbara James. The Plaque has the inscription “Hudson Valley HonorFlight Honoring American Veterans, proudly recognizes 2017 Honoree America the Beautiful Benefit Concert Committee ‘Bringing Joy to Our Veterans through Musical Memories’, We thank you for Supporting our Missions, December 3, 2017.”
To date, the HV HonorFlight has sponsored 18 missions and 1400+ veterans. The Finale of the program was the introduction of the new Executive Director, Jennifer DeFrancesco, who thanked everyone affiliated with the organization. Co-chair people for the Luncheon, Daniel O’Brien and Carol Smith concluded the program by thanking the various sponsors, donors and volunteers who aided in the organization of this event and the more than 800 attendees who were there.
Truly this is a worthwhile organization that encompasses the entire Hudson Valley stretching from Westchester County, parts of Pennsylvania, Connecticut to Albany. Two airports are utilized in the flights, Stewart International and Westchester County.