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Oct 8, 2019 12:46 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Korean War Veteran Boarded The 2019 Honor Flight

Mr. Taranto being greeted after landing in Baltimore, MD. MARC FARB
Oct 8, 2019 1:35 PM

On Saturday, September 21, U.S. Armed Forces veterans took off from Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip aboard an Honor Flight Long Island to Washington, D.C. One of the passengers was Joseph Taranto, 88, of Southampton.

Mr. Taranto is a Korean War-era veteran who served in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s. While he did not see combat, the Navy was integral in supporting the troops.

He was ecstatic to board the Honor Flight — a free round trip flight for World War II and Korean War veterans to visit the monuments at the nation’s capital — as it was his first time. Honor Flight was started in 2005 — the year after the World War II memorial was built in Washington, D.C.

“We visited the World War II monument, and then The Korean War monument, while we were at the capital. They were both really impressive” explained Mr. Taranto. “We departed from Islip and then landed in Baltimore, where we took a bus directly to Washington D.C. We were greeted at every stop. Especially at the airport in Baltimore — there was a motorcycle group that escorted us to the capital, and when we were at the airport in Maryland, there were groups of Boy Scouts and civilians waiting for us to get off the plane.”

The Honor Flight attracts hundreds of supporters from all around the country, according to Virginia Bennett, the deputy director for community services in Southampton Town Hall, who serves as the secretary for Honor Flight Long Island.

“Support from the public is everything for us,” she said. “We don’t do any fundraisers. Donations are steady and generous. We have an email distribution list and website that we use to post flight info. Then one Scout Troop tells another or one veteran organization tells another, etc. It’s all word of mouth. Plus, families of the guardians and veterans who fly show up in droves.”

The veterans spent their time checking out the monuments all day on Saturday. When it was time to get back on the bus and head to Baltimore, they received a very special surprise: a “Mail Call.” There were 50 veterans on the trip, and each received an individually addressed envelope filled with cards and letters of thanks and appreciation from children and families around the country.

“We tell the vet’s families about our Mail Call program, and they do that work for us, plus we’ve had board members whose daughter was an elementary school principal and she had her classes write letters,” Ms. Bennett said.

“It was unbelievable seeing all these cards for the first time, I just get choked up every time I think about it,” Mr. Taranto added.

When the veterans arrived back in Islip, they were greeted by a group of over 200 people. “It was the biggest welcoming committee any of us had ever seen,” he said.

Mr. Taranto joined the U.S. Navy on May 23, 1951, when he was 19 years old. He held the rank of yeoman, second class; which he said could be described as “the captain’s speaker.”

“I worked within the captain’s office aboard the ship,” he explained, “passing on messages and directions to the rest of the crew.”

Mr. Taranto went to boot camp in Bainbridge, Maryland in 1951, a camp that was closed after World War II, but then reopened for the Korean War. After completing boot camp, he was stationed at a French air base for 22 months. The air base serviced aircrafts within the fleet coming in and out of the base, located about 20 miles from the capital.

After being stationed in France, Mr. Taranto went aboard the U.S.S. Marquette, a ship that belonged to the Amphibious Fleet, with a home base in Norfolk, Virginia.

The Marquette began its Mediterranean cruise in August 1953, which included stops in Spain, the French Riviera, Italy, Turkey, and French Morocco.

“In 1955, the ship was destined to be decommissioned on the West Coast, so we went through the Panama Canal,” he said. “It took the whole day to go through. It was interesting because the captain no longer had control of the vessel, it was all about going through the many locks of the canal. The ship was then discharged on Treasure Island in San Francisco on Friday, the thirteenth, believe it or not.”

Mr. Taranto was honorably discharged with recommendation for reenlistment on the same day, May 13, 1955. “I was very fortunate to be in the Navy, and I would do it again for sure. It was a good experience, and I was very lucky.”

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What a great story! Thank you for your service, and I’m glad you had a safe trip.
By Moral Dolphin (50), Southampton on Oct 17, 19 3:18 AM