Memories of Service
World War II veteran Joe Costello, a former Redstone Arsenal employee, shares stories of his military service and the years after the war with his son-in-law, Jerry Dalrymple, who works as a program analyst for Joint Attack Munition Systems. The 86-year-old veteran will be participating in the Aug. 29 Tennessee Valley Honor Flight with his brother, 95-year-old WW II veteran Charles Costello.

Like all the other veterans making the Tennessee Valley Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. on Aug. 29, Joe Costello of Huntsville is looking forward to visiting with other veterans and seeing the World War II memorial.

"I hope to see some of my friends that I knew in the service," he said. "It will be an honor to see the World War II memorial and the changing of the guard (at Arlington Cemetery). I will be proud to see the names inscribed on the World War II memorial because I know they are the ones who are heroes, the ones who died."

Yet, his trip has become even more special with the addition of a much-loved companion.

Costello, 86, will be traveling with his brother, 95-year-old Charles Costello of New Orleans. Both are World War II veterans, one serving with the Army in the Pacific Theater and the other with the Army Air Force in the European Theater.

"I tell people that between Charles and I we had the whole war covered," Costello joked recently from his southeast Huntsville home that he shares with his wife of nearly 60 years.

"He's excited, too, about this trip. He's in a wheelchair and he will be coming from the retirement home where he lives. He will spend a few days with us and go on the trip with me."

Costello was 23 and working for the Department of the Army at the Port of Embarkation in New Orleans when, in 1944, he was drafted into the Army. He served 18 months in the Philippines. His brother volunteered at age 33.

"I was worried about going," he recalled. "But all my friends were gone, so it was time for me to go."

Costello has a similar attitude about Honor Flight, which takes veterans to see their memorial in the nation's capital free of charge. Although he has known about the program for some time, he only signed up three months ago.

"If everyone else is going, I might as well go, too," he said. "I feel honored to be able to go on this trip."

But the addition of his brother as a travel companion has made the trip even more worthwhile for both brothers.

"We've had flights with brothers before," said Joe Fitzgerald, president of Tennessee Valley Honor Flight. "Because they are brothers who both fought in World War II we wanted to get them on the same flight."

Most WW II veterans on Tennessee Valley Honor Flights are from north Alabama and south central Tennessee. There have been a few exceptions, though, since the program started in April 2007.

"Great citizens across the Tennessee Valley are funding transportation of these wonderful World War II veterans to see their memorial. World War II veterans fought for America and, no matter where they are from, they are special," Fitzgerald said. "If our veterans don't live in the Tennessee Valley, then they have a very strong local connection, like an adult child or other relatives. They will come to the Tennessee Valley, stay with their loved ones for a few days and then take the flight with us. In this case, we would not separate brothers."

The Costello brothers will be among an estimated 130 veterans who will fly on a chartered Boeing 757 for the Aug. 29 Honor Flight.

"We are continually updating our lists to make sure we have a full flight. We do tend to lose some veterans in the process either because they are too ill to go or they have passed away," Fitzgerald said. "We will make two confirmation calls before we fly to make sure we have all our veterans on the flight."

Veterans are chosen for each Honor Flight first based on their age and health. If they are over 90 or if they are critically ill, they are put at the top of the flight list. Others on the list are chosen based on when their application was received. A total of 764 veterans have flown so far on Honor Flight. Future flights are slated for Oct. 24 and the spring of 2010.

Because of high probably of hot weather conditions on the Aug. 29 flight, this Honor Flight will not include the traditional flag ceremony at the WW II memorial. Organizers want to limit the amount of time veterans spend in the heat. Other precautions are also being taken.

"They will all have caps and sunscreen and water bottles," Fitzgerald said. "They will also each have a battery operated fan and a cool gel bandana. We are taking every possible precaution under the advice of our medical team. We don't want to see anyone get overheated."

In case there is a medical emergency, Honor Flight always travels with an experienced medical team that continually monitors the health of the traveling veterans.

Honor Flight will depart Huntsville International Airport following a 5 a.m. departure ceremony on Aug. 29. The day will include stops at the WW II, the Women in the Military, Marine Corps and Korea War memorials in addition to a visit to Arlington National Cemetery. Honor Flight will return to Huntsville at about 8:30 p.m. The public is invited to participate in Honor Flight's departure and return ceremonies.

Each veteran on Honor Flight has their own unique story of their experiences during WW II, Fitzgerald said. Often, these veterans share stories during the flight and sometimes they do meet other veterans on the flight who served in their same unit or at the same location.

For Costello, his story of WW II began when he was drafted. He was assigned to 16 weeks of basic training at the Cavalry Replacement Training Center at Fort Riley, Kan., even though he had no experience with horses.

"I never rode a horse until basic training. And not only did we ride, but we had to clean out stalls and all kinds of other things to care for the horses. We had to take care of the horses and mules before we took care of ourselves," he said. "I wanted to be part of the mechanized cavalry because they had tanks. Instead I got horses."

But the horses didn't go with Costello's unit when they were shipped to the Philippines. The unit was assigned to the 743rd Army Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion attached to the 1st Cavalry Division. Costello served in administration in the capital city Manila.

Although his role was primarily to collect data for the morning reports on troop numbers, Costello was close enough to the fighting to know the toll it took on Soldiers.

"It was a war. We had to kill people. We had to capture them. It's a job you just have to do," he said.

He did get to see Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who led the U.S. forces in the Battle of Leyte Gulf and who was on the island when the Philippines were recognized by the U.S. as an independent nation, July 4, 1946.

After the war, Costello joined the Reserves and returned to the Port of Embarkation, where he worked until it closed in 1964. He then moved to Huntsville, where he worked at Redstone Arsenal in supply and maintenance for various organizations, including the Integrated Materiel Management Center. He retired from the Reserves in 1983 with 36 years of service and from civil service in 1986 with 44 years of service.

Costello, who received a Bronze Star, Victory Ribbon and several other commendations for his service, is a Soldier who appreciates the impact the U.S. victory in WW II continues to have on the nation.

"I don't think I realized the seriousness of the war at the time," Costello said, recalling his period of service. "If we hadn't bombed (Hiroshima and Nagasaki), we would be speaking Japanese."

Editor's note: To make a donation or to register for Honor Flight, visit its website at www.honorflight.net.

Page last updated Fri August 21st, 2009 at 13:08