Honor Flight Volunteer Shares Her Passion with St. John’s Community
They travel to and from Washington D.C. for an experience of a lifetime. Along the way they board planes and buses; travel across the city to visit war memorials and other landmarks; stay in hotels; and gather together for meals and to reminisce. When it is all over, they return to a hero’s welcome, courtesy of hundreds of grateful spectators who pack the main terminal at the Rochester International Airport.
Honor Flight Rochester will complete a total of six missions like this in 2016. From beginning to end—each trip will only last about 33 hours. Yet to a person, every returning veteran will speak in amazement about how they were able to do so much in such a short time without experiencing even a hint of a problem. For this, the credit goes to the scores of volunteers who dedicate their time and efforts to making everything run like clockwork. Without them, pulling off an initiative the size and scope of an Honor Flight Rochester mission would not be possible.
Nancy DaMore is one of those volunteers. In fact, she has worked almost every public welcome ceremony since she began contributing her time to Honor Flight Rochester four years ago. She typically works the long hallway from the arrivals gate to the terminal and she truly enjoys the opportunity to wish each veteran well and thank them personally for their service. As she puts it, “nobody can get past me without a hug.”
Mission 47—which saw a record number of veterans and their companions make the trip—touched down on the afternoon of May 22. Still recovering from a recent surgery, Nancy opted to manage a souvenir table just inside the room at the end of the parade route where the final ceremony is held. However, that did not stop her from seeking out each veteran to share that hug and a warm welcome home. The 60th and final vet to make it through the cheering crowd and over to Nancy for his greeting that day was a fellow resident from Brickstone by St. John’s by the name of Conrad “Connie” Scheg.
“I’ve been asked to go on this before,” explains Connie, who served in the Army during the early 1950s. “But I felt there were many others who deserved it more than I do.” Connie’s attitude is common among those wartime veterans who Honor Flight is hoping to bring along on future missions. He enlisted into the Army at the tail end of 1950 before completing basic training and then advanced infantry training. While he anticipated he would next head to fight in Korea, he was instead sent to Germany as part of NATO’s occupational force in Europe. Connie spent 15 months in the Company Clerk’s office in the town of Bad Kreuznach before heading back to the states. He never served in combat.
Neither did Walter Dickson, though like Connie, he was ready and willing to fight for his country. Drafted into the Army in February 1945 at 17 years old, Walter spent his last semester of high school training as a rifleman in Arizona and Texas. From there, Walter and his company of infantry replacements took a train to Seattle where they boarded a boat headed out to the Pacific. “We were going to be shipping out overseas–Saipan supposedly,” recalls Walter, who has lived with his wife Dolly in a cottage home at St. John’s Meadows since 2014. They made it as far as Hawaii, where they landed on August 14, 1945. V-J Day.
While she insists that it is not an official part of her volunteer work, Nancy has made it her personal mission to help “encourage” reluctant veterans like Connie and Walter to spend the weekend in Washington with others who answered the call of duty. She has seen enough faces of men and women who have returned from Honor Flight missions deeply affected by the experience to know that it is an opportunity that should not be passed up.
Nancy does not sell Honor Flight too hard and it often takes months to get qualifying veterans to fill out an application. She also offers to connect those considering the program with past participants who can help them feel more comfortable with making the trip. Through her efforts as an unofficial recruiter for Honor Flight Rochester, Nancy has now played a significant role in convincing eight residents from St. John’s to take the flight.
“Some friends of ours had gone, but I didn’t even want to think about going,” admits Walter. That was before Nancy began campaigning for him to think it over. “She talked me into it.” Nancy also helped make it possible for Walter’s friend Howard—another qualifying veteran who lives in Albany—to fly into Rochester and join him on the trip.
“She was one of the first people I met when I came here a year-and-a-half ago,” says Connie of Nancy. Connie’s mindset that Honor Flight was meant for those who he felt had served a more critical role in the war was at first difficult to turn around. “Nancy and I talked a little more. She said ‘you go- you earned it.’ So I signed up.”
Walter Dickson was on the first Honor Flight of 2016–Mission 46. Like the others before him who have needed to be persuaded that the program is meant for veterans just like them, he ended up thoroughly enjoying the experience. “It was really wonderful,” says Walter. “I can’t compare it to anything. The reception coming back was unbelievable.”
To gauge Connie Scheg’s Honor Flight experience one would only need to watch him as he made his way through the terminal with other veterans to the welcome ceremony. Connie seemed to stop and talk to every person and group who greeted him. Some were friends and family on hand to support him, but he spent just as much time meeting and posing with complete strangers. “It was stupendous,” says Connie. “Before I was just going to go. Now I’m proud that I took part in it.”
These are the types of testimonials that Nancy DaMore loves to hear. Volunteering with Honor Flight Rochester has been a truly rewarding experience—both in her official capacity at the welcome ceremonies and as the unofficial voice of the organization at St. John’s. “It is perfect for me” she says proudly. “Out of every volunteer thing I have ever done, this has been the most fulfilling.”
Honor Flight Rochester is hoping to include every World War II Veteran who is able to participate on one of the remaining flights in 2016. They are also actively looking for Korean and Cold War Veterans to take this special journey. Visit the Honor Flight Rochester website to learn more.