By Lori Milani Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
WASHINGTON — “This is something spectacular,” said Frank Calzaretta, a World War II veteran from Delray Beach, sitting in his wheelchair under the Pacific arch of the World War II Memorial and staring at the fountains and granite pillars before him.
Although not new to the nation’s capital, he was visiting the memorial for the first time Saturday, as were several of the 85 World War II veterans from South Florida with him who ranged in age from 83 to nearly 100.
“They treated us like kings,” Calzaretta said in praise of Southeast Florida Honor Flight, which organized and sponsored the trip.
He and his fellow veterans were escorted by motorcycles and saluted by firefighters on their way to Palm Beach International Airport, where they boarded their D.C.-bound flight at the break of dawn to the cheers of a festive crowd and the sounds of a Scottish bagpipe band.
“We got here in Washington, D.C., we got off the plane and I started crying,” the Navy veteran said. “I had never been applauded before.”
“Congressman (Allen) West was at the plane to greet us,” chimed in Thomas Kaiser, an Army veteran from Delray Beach and former boot camp mate of Calzaretta.
Since 2005, the nonprofit Honor Flight program has flown more than 30,000 World War II veterans from across the country to Washington at no cost to honor them for their service.
Before visiting the World War II Memorial, the 85 veterans, each accompanied by a volunteer, attended the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery.
“Arlington breaks me up,” Calzaretta said, his tone now somber. “You see all these thousands of crosses. We haven’t achieved a goddamn thing in all these years. We’re still dying. It’s such a loss of life.”
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