Two local Veterans from Pine Island took part in the Hudson Valley Honor Flight Mission #22 on Sat., Apr. 13. Hudson Valley Honor Flight is a local 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Walden, NY that honors Hudson Valley area Veterans for all their sacrifices. The Honor Flights take heroes on an all-expense paid trip to Washington DC to visit our nation’s war memorials.
The morning started at 4:30 a.m. at the Pine Island Fire House where a group of nearly 50 gathered to welcome and send off veterans Richard Labanowski and John Barczak, Sr. Both were born in Pine Island and served in the Korean War. The veterans and their guardians, Donna Barczak for Richie, and Kelly Barczak Morgiewicz for her father, John, climbed into the fire truck.
Fire trucks from the Pine Island and Florida fire departments transported the veterans and led a caravan of cars filled with well-wishers to ShopRite in Montgomery, the first stop of day. After check-in, the Veterans boarded buses to Stewart International Airport that were led by motorcycle clubs, the Pine Island and Florida Fire Departments, State and local police and other emergency agencies from Orange County.
A huge crowd at the airport welcomed the five buses of Veterans and a ceremony inside the terminal followed. Soon they were on the plane for a quick, one-hour flight to Washington DC. Stops in DC included the World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.
Most touching for John and Richie were the Korean War Memorial and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier where they watched the Changing of the Guard ceremony. On the flight back to Stewart Airport, there was “Mail Call” for the Veterans. When these Veterans served the country, there were no cell phones or FaceTime. Soldiers looked forward to “Mail Call” where they received mail from their family and loved ones.
Family members and friends of Richie and John showed their support by sending them well wishes and “thank you’s” for their service. Both were showered with letters, cards and drawings from school children.
Richard (Richie) Labanowski
Richard (Richie) Labanowski was born in Pine Island where he spent his entire life. He was one of 10 children, attending Pine Island Elementary School and Warwick High School. Richie enlisted in the US Marine Corp. with three other friends while a senior in high school. He served from August 1953 until August 1956. Stationed in Camp Lejeune, NC, one his tours in 1954 was the Med Cruise, the Mediterranean 6th Fleet. Some of his duties included working in the Clerk Office because the Commanding Office noticed on Richie’s record that he had typing skills. Within two years, Richie reached the rank of Sargent.
When his military career was over, Richie returned to Pine Island and worked at West Point for 30 years. He later worked for Henry Alder’s Florist. He continues to serve the Pine Island community as he volunteers tirelessly for the PLAV (Polish Legion of Veterans) Post 16, where he is the Chaplain and serves on the Scholarship Committee, St. Stanislaus Holy Name Society, General Pulaski Association and Hudson Valley Polonaise Society.
Richie is an active member of his Church and the Senior Citizens group. In 1960 he was the Harvest Moon Ball Champion for his spectacular polka dancing. Not only was Richie the Polonaise Society’s Citizen of the Year in 2006, he was also Pine Island Chamber of Commerce’s Citizen of the Year that same year.
John Barczak, Sr.
John Barczak, Sr. was born in Pine Island and is the youngest of 10 children. He attended Pine Island Elementary School and graduated from Warwick H.S. John voluntarily enlisted and served in the US Army from September 1959 to August 1961. He attended Basic Training and Advanced Training in Ft. Benning, GA. After Advanced Training was completed, John traveled to New York City and was then shipped out to Germany on the USS Rose. He trained at The Graff and was later stationed at Budigen, Germany, where he fired tanks and did recognizance training work. John earned the Rank of Spec-4.
John has two children, Kelly Barczak Morgiewicz and John Barczak, Jr. and two grandchildren, Cagney and Delaney Conner. He married Jane Piasecki in 1976. After serving in the Army, John farmed the black dirt fields in Pine Island. Later, he worked at the Lehigh and Hudson Railroad as an Assistant Engineer where he operated freight locomotives. In September 1968, John began working as a truck driver at Jones Chemical in Warwick, working there for 36 years until he retired in April 2004. During his semi-retirement he is a truck driver for Shuback’s Sod Farm in Pine Island.
John is an active member of PLAV (Polish Legion of Veterans) Post 16, serving as Sargent at Arms and member of the Board of Directors. He has been a member of the Hamburg Fire Department in NJ, since March 1967. He proudly served as Chief of the Department in 1976 and is a past Secretary of Hamburg Fire Department Relief Association.