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Nov 9, 2011 11:03 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

World War II Vet First To Be Honored During Hampton Bays Flag Ceremony

Nov 11, 2011 12:19 PM

At the age of 92, Walter Flaherty admits that he is a little bit past the Lindy-Hopping days of his post World War II glory, though that does not stop the Army veteran from leading a full life in his golden years.

The Hampton Bays resident, who now lives on West Tiana Road with his black cat Mikey, served in the 701st Tank Battalion in the 1st Armored Division of the Army during World War II. Having enlisted at age 19 right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the private first class got his first taste of war on June 6, 1944—D-Day—when he landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of the second wave of American soldiers.

“They hit us with everything they had,” Mr. Flaherty said while recalling events that claimed the lives of an estimated 10,000 Allied soldiers. “It was tough getting on and off the beach that day—really tough.”

While battling on the European front, Mr. Flaherty drove a Sherman tank that was equipped with one 75-mm, two 50-mm and two 30-mm guns. He and his fellow soldiers made their way through France, Belgium, Luxemburg and, finally, Germany, and saw most of their action on the front lines.

One of the more memorable fights that Mr. Flaherty was involved in was the infamous “Battle of the Bulge,” the last major offensive by the Germans that lasted from December 1944 until January 1945. The battle, which is widely referred to as a turning point in the war, was a costly one for American soldiers who were completely surrounded at one point near the town of Bastogne, in Belgium. The Germans were eventually pushed back and Mr. Flaherty was awarded a Bronze Star for his service on the tanks during this crucial juncture in the Allied advance.

“They threw everything, including the kitchen sink, at us that month,” he recalled during an interview on Tuesday. “We made sure we threw it all straight back at them.”

On Thursday morning, Mr. Flaherty will be the first local veteran to be honored at the Hampton Bays Elementary School as a part of the district’s new flag dedication program. The event will be a part of the school’s annual Veterans Day ceremony, which is being hosted by the fourth grade class and co-sponsored by American Legion Hand-Aldrich Post 924 of Hampton Bays.

At the ceremony, which begins at 11 a.m., the American flag at the school will be taken down and replaced with one donated by the American Legion. That flag will fly for one month in honor of Mr. Flaherty’s military service. At the end of the month, the flag will be taken down and ceremonially folded for Mr. Flaherty to keep. At that time, a new flag will be flown in honor of another local veteran.

When first approached by his fellow Post 924 members about the possibility of being the first veteran honored in that way, Mr. Flaherty recalls being surprised. “I was a little bit in shock,” said Mr. Flaherty, who has lived in Hampton Bays since the 1950s. “Of course, I decided to do it though.”

Immediately following the ceremony there will be a luncheon at the school that all former and active duty servicemen and servicewomen are invited to attend. The flag for Mr. Flaherty will be flown until December, when it will be taken down and another raised for former Marine James Papandrea, another Hampton Bays veteran.

Following World War II, Mr. Flaherty returned to the United States ready to forget the troubles of war. Asked if he was ever wounded, Mr. Flaherty deflected the question: “I used to have to ride in that tank with the odor of blood, and after I got married, I could still smell blood, so I don’t talk about that anymore.”

A frequenter of bars and clubs with his older brother Frankie, also a veteran, upon his return home, Mr. Flaherty said he loved the classic dances of the time, like the Lindy-Hop and the Charleston, and even had the pleasure of twirling Joan Crawford and Ginger Rogers around the dance floor. His brother died several years ago.

“Boy, could Miss Crawford dance,” Mr. Flaherty recalled. “I used to be able to dance the night away,” he added with a slight hop in his step.

In his early 20s, Mr. Flaherty said he met the woman who changed it all for him, his future wife, Elsey. They met at a bar in Queens that her father owned, and while they did not immediately hit it off—Mr. Flaherty accidentally insulted her—the two were married a short time later. They were married 59 years and had four children: two boys—Walter Jr. and Paul, and two girls, Karen and Gail. Mrs. Flaherty died four years ago from lung cancer. Karen passed away at the age of 52.

Mr. Flaherty worked 40 years for the Gulf oil company and, in his spare time, has been known to tinker with old electronics. He owns a collection of model trains and Hess trucks that he keeps in his basement. In the years since his wife’s passing, Mr. Flaherty has become an active member of a local senior citizens group, and is helped around by his neighbor and good friend Joe Sinclair—a former Navy man.

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Love the story! Thank you Mr. Flaherty. You deserve this wonderful recognition! Enjoy every moment of it...
By SESmom (5), Southampton on Nov 9, 11 3:15 PM
My father, WWII vet QM2 US Navy, always enjoyed the luncheons hosted by the HBES. Some of my earliest memories as a student at HBES was the first grade Flag Day ceremony. It's nice to see the HBSD is continuing it's long tradition of involving seniors and veterans in it's activities.
By BaymenNYC (59), Manhattan on Nov 9, 11 6:32 PM
Great story......good people, and we need more of these articles, to show how great it is to be an american citizen. Thank you Mr. Flaherty, and all the men and women of this country who have served.
By trurepublician (53), hampton bays on Nov 11, 11 9:23 AM