WASHINGTON -- On a spring day that felt more like the thick quilt of summer, Michael Calicchio was in a wheelchair, slowly approaching the World War II memorial, a majestic statement of gratitude for the service of the greatest generation.
A Merchant Marine who went to war as a teenager, the 90-year-old wore dark brown suit slacks with black lace-up, hard-bottom shoes because this moment, this final act of paying respect, demanded the dignity of formal attire.
“No dungarees,” he had insisted to a nurse the day before this journey to Washington, D.C.
Slowed by the march of time and now aided by wheelchairs and canes, a group of 65 local World War II and Korean War veterans visited the memorials that mark their military service on Saturday as part of the Honor Flight South Florida, one of the “hubs’’ of a national network offering all-expense-paid trips for veterans to the nation’s capital.
“The war was very, very bad. A lot of people died, but we ended up freeing the world,” said Calicchio who retired as a captain at age 65 and now lives in Key Largo. “All the people who died, they are the real heroes.”
The last mission, as Honor Flight calls it, allows those who served to visit the memorials — many for the first time.