Sitting in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., Southampton native Lubin Hunter viewed the gravestone of Audie L. Murphy, one of the most decorated U.S. combat veterans to serve in World War II.
Solemnly, Mr. Hunter, who turns 97 next week, raised his right hand to his head, saluting the headstone adorned with two American flags and a bouquet of flowers.
The trip to Arlington was just one of many stops for Mr. Hunter and his daughter, Roberta Hunter, on Saturday, May 3, as they participated in a series of events in the nation’s capital for veterans as part of the Honor Flight Long Island program—a group that flies veterans, free of charge, to Washington, D.C., for the day to see their war memorial.
The day, Ms. Hunter said, was an emotional one for her and her father, who served in the Pacific Arena during World War II as a corporal in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
“I thought it was an excellent and beautiful trip,” Mr. Hunter said this week. “It reminded me of how wealthy our nation is as a people to be able to honor our veterans in that way. I am thankful to the whole community for my wonderful trip.”
According to a yearbook created for the participants in the Honor Flight program, Mr. Lubin entered the Army on August 13, 1943. Because he is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, there was a question as to whether or not he would be placed in an all-black unit of the Army. Ultimately, he was placed in a white unit and sent to basic training, according to his daughter. While in the Army, Mr. Hunter was deployed to the Pacific, where he worked as a gunner, a navigator and a pilot of B-17 planes. He returned home from the war on February 22, 1946.
On the day of the Honor Flight trip, the Hunters started out early, with a motorcycle escort from the organization “Boots on the Ground” from the Shinnecock Reservation to MacArthur Airport in Islip at 5:15 a.m. There, Ms. Hunter said, her father was able to speak with the members of the motorcycle brigade, one of whom was a former Navy man who had served on the U.S.S. Missouri, a ship that Mr. Hunter had helped build in Brooklyn.
From there, they flew to Baltimore-Washington Airport, where the veterans were given a hero’s welcome and greeted by hundreds of spectators who included both past and present military service men and women.
“It was remarkable, it really was,” Ms. Hunter said. “I was so glad and I felt so honored to travel with the group and my dad—it was a truly wonderful experience.”
Throughout the day, the veterans were able to visit the World War II memorial, view the laying of the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, were treated to refreshments and met with several politicians. One thing Ms. Hunter said she enjoyed during the trip was watching her dad interact with other veterans. She said it was amazing how they could just start talking about something from their time in the service, and everyone around them instantly knew what they were talking about and its significance.
“Through my life I had heard from him pieces of the story of his time in the Army,” Ms. Hunter said. “But what I found most interesting was listening to him speak to other veterans, it was like they had their own code, and as soon as he said certain things they knew immediately the context of it and what it meant and they were able to joke about it.”
This week, both Mr. and Ms. Hunter said they were happy to have been able to go, and Ms. Hunter said she encourages as many veterans as possible to take the trip.
“They were a very humble group of gentlemen who felt that they did what they had to do, came home, and got on with their lives and did not really speak much about their experiences until much later on,” Ms. Hunter said. “The whole day was just filled with respect and love for the gentlemen of this generation who are disappearing, unfortunately, every day, and their stories are leaving us. I felt honored for him and happy to be able to do this trip.”
Veterans wishing to find more information about the Honor Flight trips, or anyone interested in being a guardian escort for the day, should contact Virginia Bennett at Southampton Town Hall by calling (631) 702-2423, or by going to Honorflightlongisland.org.
“He had never been to the World War II memorial,” Ms. Hunter said this week. “He [will be] 97, so it was very meaningful for him to go to Washington, D.C., with Honor Flight. It was a fantastic trip and the organizers who did the work to really have these World War II veterans be regarded as heroes, which they are, I certainly felt like I was in the company of heroes.”