SHIPSHEWANA — Today promises to be a long, long, long day for 88-year old Carl Lazzaro, but he couldn’t be more excited.
The retired Shipshewana insurance executive and former Navy veteran is on an Honor Flight today, headed to Washington D.C. to see the city’s monuments dedicated to veterans like himself. It something he’s been planning for some time.
“I want to see the memorials, it’s something every veteran should do,” Lazzaro explained.
Lazzaro will be part of a group of 80 veterans and their guardians from northeast Indiana headed to the nation’s capital to join with other groups for a tour of the veterans memorials. In addition, those groups of veterans will be honored at several special services.
Veterans travel for free on these flights sponsored by Honor Flight of Northeast Indiana. Honor flight organizations focus their efforts on veterans who served in World War II and the Korean conflict when assigning seats on flights.
Born in Gary, Lazzaro signed up for the Navy shortly after graduating from high school in 1950. The son of Italian immigrants, Lazzaro said he spent summers in high school working in a Gary steel mill with his father. He said he learned he didn’t want to spend his life in a steel mill. Once he graduated from high school, he enlisted in the Navy.
The Navy trained Lazzaro to be an aircraft mechanic, working on massive 18- and 24-cylinder airplane engines. And when those planes were in the air, Lazzaro was part of that airplane’s crew, hunting for submarines in and around the Mediterranean.
Ironically, the entire time he was in the Navy, from 1951 to 1955, Lazzaro said he never set foot on a ship.
“Our plane was too big for an aircraft carrier, so we were land based,” he said. “I was in the Navy for four years and never stepped on a ship. First time I stepped on a ship was when my wife and I went on a cruise.”
Lazzaro will be traveling with his youngest daughter, Brenda Yoder, a former Westview teacher who will act as his guardian on the flight.
“It’s exciting for me, because I used to teach history,” she explained. “I was the history and government teacher at Westview, so, I’m excited to go on the trip with dad. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Lazzaro said he was wasn’t aware that honor flights flew out of Fort Wayne until he saw an ad in the paper. He quickly got online and researched those flights, filling out an application for a seat. He learned in February he’d been accepted.
“I want to see the memorials. I was stationed in Maryland, about 60 miles from Washington D.C., and back in the 50s, there were no memorials. So that’s what I want to see, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, and all the other memorials.”
Lazzaro also said he was excited about having the chance to meet and talk with other veterans, especially those who served in the military at the same time he did.
His tour promises to be a long day. Lazzaro headed to Fort Wayne Tuesday night. He arrived at the airport at 5 a.m., had breakfast and boarded a plane bound for Washington D.C.
His entire day is mapped out. It includes stops at most of Washington’s memorials, a stop for lunch, and a slow drive past the Iwo Jima Memorial. Just to be safe, Lazzaro said he’s using a wheelchair to get around D.C.
Yoder said her father’s flight and his tour of Washington, D.C., are important to him at this point in his life.
“These things really do mean a lot of him,” she explained. “It’s just such an honor, and to see other people who served when he did. I think that especially is meaningful to him. He really enjoys talking with other veterans. If he sees a veteran with a hat on in a restaurant, he will go up and talk to that person. At this point in his life, I think you really do get reflective about those things. Living in Shipshewana, there aren’t a lot of veterans here. I think more than anything, he’s looking forward to the honor itself, and the camaraderie of being around other veterans who have lived that story. That is so important, especially in the later years of your life.”