Local WWII veterans honored by Dream Flights as co-pilots in flight over CT


WINDHAM, Conn. (WTNH) — Veterans of the Greatest Generation won’t be with us for long, but the sacrifices they made launched generations and made way for what this country is today. That’s why one organization is dedicating the months of August and September to veterans of World War II (WWII).

Nearly eight decades have passed since Gus Sbrogna, of Putnam, served in the U.S. Army during WWII. Now, at age 95, there are memories he’d like to forget.

Sbrogna told reporters Monday, “I just feel terrific to be here. That’s number one. Just to be back home. Always.”

He won’t talk about them, but the memories are visible in his emotion. In war, one thing became clear. The enemy wasn’t always a villain.

“After I was there for about a year, I kinda like the people; they were good people. They were better than I expected. And I thank the military for giving me that opportunity,” Sbrogna said, getting choked up.

On the other hand, for 94-year-old U.S. Navy veteran Herb Shook, of Vernon, memories have faded. He was a young boy in his prime focused on certain things when the war broke out.

“I gotta admit, there were some pretty girls and the nurses were grand,” Shook recalled. “I don’t even remember any of the doctors. However, if I could go back there, I would.”

Monday, Gus and Herb soared back to the early ’40s, flying 1,000 feet over Windham in an iconic 1942 open-cockpit Boeing Stearman bi-plane.

“I haven’t seen a biplane now in 30 years, 40 years something like that,” Shook said. “Used to see them all the time.”

Operation September Freedom is flying veterans from the Greatest Generation as a way to say ‘thank you for their service.’

Diane Nadeau, of Eastern Connecticut Veterans Community Center, told News 8 of the organization, “They manage to get them into the plane and give them at least a 20-minute ride and they forget about everything. Forget about their physical and mental status and just really enjoy the memories. The good memories because we all know that not every memory during WWII was happy.”

Over the course of August and September, six planes just like the 1942 open-cockpit Boeing Stearman bi-plane will fly about 1,200 veterans across the country.

The flights are free to veterans. Hosted by the nonprofit Dream Flights. Sponsors like Sport Clips Haircuts and Hartford Jet Center in Windham and Hartford welcome the opportunity to celebrate veterans. And the flight itself means the world to men like Gus and Herb.

Shook: “I wish I could have done this earlier and I hope to be able to do it again.”

Sbrogna: “I like planes; I like planes.”

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