Two Fishers vets participate in Indy Honor Flight
By Ray Compton
Just as others do when they travel to Washington, D.C., the two aging men from Fishers took in many of the iconic sights on their one-day visit to the nation’s capital in early April.
Their tour traveled by the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam War Memorial and the multi-acre World War II Memorial. Both cherished the views of the legendary landmarks.
However, nothing touched their hearts and souls as much as the greetings they received when their flights exited into the airports at Washington and Indianapolis. Both lobbies were packed with thousands of greeters, who welcomed and thanked World War II veterans Leo Seghetti , Gerold Reilly and 72 other World War II veterans who served as teenagers in the Armed Forces almost 70 years ago.
“I got tingles,” admitted Seghetti when he passed by the boisterous and appreciative throng at both airports. “Everyone was thanking you and saying wonderful things to you. A couple of gals even hugged me. What a thrill.”
Both Seghetti and Reilly were participants in the fourth Indy Honor Flight trip to Washington to tour the World War II Monument, which is dedicated to the 16 million who served in the Armed Forces and 400,000 who died in the European and Pacific theatres. The monument opened in 2004 and the Honor Flight Network started in Springfield, Ohio in 2005. The purpose is to provide — for free — a one-day trip to the memorial.
Since it started in 2012, the Indy Honor Flight has taken almost 300 veterans to Washington. Three more flights (May, September and October) are scheduled in 2014. As noted on the group’s national website, “Time is of the Essence”. The median age of veterans is now 92 and there are fewer than a million veterans alive. Almost a thousand die daily.
“The window is closing,” said Ron May of the Indy Honor Flight.
Indeed, Seghetti and Reilly are poster children for the program. Seghetti is pushing 93, while Reilly hits his 90th birthday later this year.
But there are also differences between the two. Seghetti was in the Army, landed on Omaha Beach a month after D-Day and survived the Battle of the Bulge. Reilly served on the USS Snyder for the Navy, and was part of the ship’s cast when it provided escorts to Okinawa and Saipan during the conflict with Japan. He and the Snyder eventually made a post-war trip to Nagasaki, Japan.
And their civilian lives also took different directions. Seghetti returned to his hometown (North Judson) to own a hardware store. Reilly, a Fountain Square native, worked at Diamond Chain and Ford. Each now calls Fishers the home base, but there is a difference. Reilly lives in a home, while Seghetti is anchored at the Hearth at Windermere Assisted Community.
Both remain spry – though Seghitti moves in a wheelchair – and on top of their game in their twilight years. Each has endured the pain of losing their wives of over 60 years and both have overcome the sometimes painful memories provide by war.
“I didn’t say too much about the war for a long time,” confessed Reilly, whose fleet pursued Japanese submarines and who witnessed dozens of Japanese kamikaza flights “You saw a lot of terrible things. When we stopped by Manila (Phillipines), there was nothing left. Everything was damaged by the war.”
Seghetti also witnessed war’s terrors after his ship of 5,000 soldiers landed and trained in England. As a member of the 29th Division, he and his mates were called to replace fallen officers from the invasion at Normady. His group fought in the Battle of the Bulge, crossed the Rhine River and eventually bedded down on the Elbe River 50 miles outside of Berlin.
“Things finally calmed down,” Seghetti remembered. “The Russians were getting closer and the German units would come out with white flags. They didn’t want the Russians to capture them.”
Perhaps the final marching order for the two Fishers veterans came in March. That was when they received notice that they had been accepted on the Indy Honor Flight. Each was accompanied by a guardian (a son-in-law for Reilly and a son of a veteran for Seghetti) on the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The stop at the World War II monument provided numerous reflections for the duo. “It was so nice to see,” said Reilly.
But even that sight paled in comparison to the return greeting in Indianapolis.
“I have never seen anything like it,” Reilly recalled. “There were two to three thousand people. You couldn’t shake everyone’s hands. It made your heart warm.”