PAWTUCKET – Henry Stad is eager to spread the news about “Honor Flight New England” to his fellow World War II veterans.
“They treated us like royalty when we went to Washington, D.C. last October 24th,” Stad was saying recently. “World War II veterans are becoming a smaller group every day. I want all of the guys who are still alive to know about Honor Flight New England, which takes groups of World War II veterans to Washington, D.C. several times a year, for free.
“It doesn’t matter if you are in a wheelchair,” Stad continued, showing a photograph taken of his tour group last October. “See how many guys are in wheelchairs? It doesn’t matter. They assign a guardian to each veteran, a person who pays their own way and takes care of us. “
The Honor Flight group flies out of Logan Airport in Boston.
“We were greeted at the airport in Washington by big crowds,” Stad recalled. “We had a police escort into the city. They shut the highway down for us! We took a tour of all the monuments. The World War II monument is wonderful. People came up to us with their cameras and asked to take our picture in front of the World War II monument.”
Stad sifts through the photos in his hand and finds one that shows a group of veterans lined up in front of the World War II monument.
“I have to admit I got a little emotional after people kept asking us for our picture,” Stad said. “Your mind goes back to when you were in the service. My younger brother Frank was killed during the Battle of The Bulge. You never forget that.”
Stad, who still runs a AARP tax program for area senior citizens, grew up in Pawtucket. His parents died within a year of one another in the mid-1930s.
“We were Depression Era kids who grew up on High Street,” he said. “I had two sisters and two brothers. My older sister Estella just passed away. She lived to be 100 years old. My brother Walter is 97 years old. My sister Josephine was the first female pharmacist in Rhode Island. She died when she was 87.”
Stad, who has been married for 54 years to his wife Maria, was drafted in 1941, serving first in the infantry before transferring over to the Army Air Corps. He almost died from malaria while serving in Africa during 1942.
“I was very lucky,” he said. “I was just withering away and nobody could find out what was wrong with me. One day a British officer, a doctor, came to my bed and asked what was wrong with me. He had experience dealing with malaria cases and got me back on the road to recovery.”
Stad tells the story of his brother Frank’s death, remembering all the details clearly, even after 66 years have passed.
“Frank was the lead bombardier on his plane,” Stad said. “He was the guy who dropped the bombs. Frank was 22 years old and he had already flown 23 missions. When you got to 25 missions, you could go home. One day, Frank wasn’t supposed to fly but a guy called in sick and Frank took his place. They figured they were doing Frank a favor by letting him get a mission in. When he opened the doors on his plane to let the bombs drop, machine gun flak shot up through the doors and blew the plane up.”
Stad tells the story rapidly and moves on to another subject.
“I worked as an accountant after the war,” he said. “Once I retired, I started helping veterans and other seniors with their taxes each year. I work out of the East Providence Senior Center and go around to different senior centers, doing what I can to help people out.”
Stad’s trip to Washington last October drives him to spread the word of Honor Flight New England, an organization that began in June of 2009 and is sustained by a group of veterans who had launched 13 flights over the past 20 months, taking 365 veterans who are too old or infirm to travel to the nation’s capital.
The main objective is to help WW II veterans see the monument erected in their honor back in 2004.
“I had been to Washington a long time ago, when our children were young,” Stad said. “To go back again with other veterans of my war was a wonderful experience that I will never forget.”
The next Honor Guard flight leaves in April. Any WW II veterans who want to make the trip, or perhaps one later in the year, should call this number: 613-518-5368. Or they could visit the organization’s website: Honorflightnewengland.org
“We all wore our dog tags,” Stad said, looking at one of his photographs from the trip. “You know, I was the oldest guy among all the veterans on our bus trip to Boston!”