WWII Vet's Special Welcome
sayville Football Assistant Coach and Players Honor WWII Vet with special Homecoming at MacArthur Airport
Upon returning from their visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., WWII “Honor-Flight” Veteran Douglas Cox and his escort, Volunteer Assistant Football Coach Zach Gallo, were given a special welcome by Sayville Varsity Football Players.
Ninety-two-year-old Douglas Cox, a World War II veteran from Merrick, Long Island, was given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Thanks to the Honor Flight program and the assistance of his specially selected Guardian, Zach Gallo from Sayville, Cox was escorted to Washington D.C. to visit the World War II Memorial that honors "The Greatest Generation.” It was this veteran’s first-time seeing the granite and bronze monument—installed on the National Mall on May 29, 2004—dedicated to all who served and sacrificed during the Second Great War.
Without assistance, Douglas Cox would not have been able to journey to the memorial. It’s been over seventy years since that war ended, and many of the surviving veterans from World War II have become too elderly, infirmed, or have limited resources to make the trip to Washington D.C. Introducing Honor Flight, which, according to the website, is “a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices, flies our nation's heroes to Washington, DC to visit and reflect at their memorials. It is the intention of Honor Flight Long Island to honor as many of these selfless ‘ordinary people who saved the world’ as we can by providing them a FREE trip to visit their memorial.”
The website also explains how it accomplishes its mission: “Honor Flight Long Island operates on donations from local and regional organizations and individuals from across Long Island. We are taking WWII Veterans who have NOT seen their memorial. The flights, deluxe tour bus service, tee shirts, and meals, etc. are FREE to our veterans. Top priority is given to WWII Veterans and only those who have NOT seen their memorial. We will continue to do this so long as funds, veterans and volunteers are available.”
“I learned about the Honor Flight program” said Sayville class of 2007 alumnus Zach Gallo, “from a college friend who participated in an upstate Honor Flight.” Gallo wanted to get involved, applied to become a volunteer guardian, and made the $400 donation that affords the opportunities for vets. As a social studies teacher in the ESBOCES Centereach Academic Center, Gallo admitted that he holds a special place in his heart for veterans who served and sacrificed for our freedoms, but especially for the “Greatest Generation” who fought in the Second World War. This self-proclaimed World War II buff is a young man of action who also volunteers as an Assistant Varsity Football Coach for the Sayville Football program where he was once a team member. Although Gallo was not picked for the Honor Flight Long Island in May of 2016, he was pleased when he was called in August to serve for the Fall flight that was held in late September.
Upon receiving the call, the social studies teacher and volunteer coach had an idea. “I wanted to get my students and the Sayville Football players involved,” Gallo explained. He thought it would be a good way to acquaint them with someone who epitomized “the true essence of teamwork” through commitment in military service. “Another big reason that I did this was to spread the awareness of this great program and to hope that more people sign up to volunteer.”
The Honor Flight from MacArthur Airport gave both Douglas Cox, a former U.S. Navy aeronautical engineer who was a Navel Air Transporter in the Pacific theatre, and Zach Gallo a meaningful, daylong visit. They were met with a motorcade of volunteers and transported to the WWII Memorial, Arlington National Cemetery, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the famous Iwo Jima Memorial. During the “mail-call” portion of the day for veterans in attendance, Mr. Cox received letters from Zach Gallo’s Centereach students who thanked him for his service to our country.
But the warm reception the two travelers met upon their return to MacArthur airport that night was unforgettable. The Honor Flight homecoming was attended by members of the Sayville Varsity Football Team who presented Mr. Cox with a football autographed by the 2016 team at their game the day before. Gallo was deeply moved by those Sayville Varsity Football team members who made the welcome home truly extraordinary. “It was an emotional experience for all of us,” Gallo said. “Almost the entire team was there. I was happy that my position as a coach and a teacher could influence them and help them understand the sacrifices of others. It was a wonderful experience for both my athletes and students to be a part of this special day.”
When Sayville Varsity Football Coach Rob Hoss had learned about this homecoming, he expressed his great pride in his volunteer coach and his football team. “This act of patriotism and respect for our service men and women by coach Gallo and the boys makes me proud to be their coach. These selfless acts of kindness and goodwill should not go unnoticed nor should the sacrifice of our brave servicemen and women. Sayville Schools are building great kids of character!”