The following article was online from the Hartford, CT Courant Newspaper, written by Jim Farrell on September 15, 2007. The photo is by John Woike.
'American Warrior' Group Pays The Bills To Honor Dwindling Group Of Heroes
RUSSELL INZINGA gives Hayden Griswold a trim as the two World War II veterans swap stories Thursday morning at Inzinga's Manchester barber shop. Inzinga, 85, served in the Merchant Marine and Griswold, 85, in the Army.
As a member of the Merchant Marine, Russell Inzinga made 18 trips across the Atlantic aboard the E.B. Alexander, which delivered troops to fight in World War II.Now 85, Inzinga is proud of his service and excited about yet another trip - this one today, when he will be among 100 World War II veterans flying at no charge to Washington, D.C., for a day of touring and reminiscing."It feels good to be recognized," said Inzinga, who has spent 57 years as a Manchester barber and still works 30 hours per week. "I still have my health, fortunately, but there are not a lot of us veterans left."
Dubbed Connecticut Honor Flight, the trip is sponsored by American Warrior, a charitable group founded recently by Christopher Coutu, 31, who spent three years in the Air Force and is now a member of the state Air National Guard."I'm excited for them, and for their generation," said Coutu, who works as a financial planner in Niantic.After arriving at Reagan National Airport at about 10 a.m., veterans will visit the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004 in to honor the 16 million Americans who served and the more than 400,000 who died in that war. Scheduled stops after lunch include the Vietnam and Korean war memorials. After flying back to Bradley, the veterans will be bused to Norwich for a celebration in Franklin Square that is to include patriotic music.
"I'm really excited," said Melvin Stevens, 83, of Bloomfield, who fought with the U.S. Army at the Battle of the Bulge and received two Purple Hearts."I came within a heartbeat of being wiped out three or four times," said Stevens, who noted that he has never been to Washington and feels blessed to have survived the war.Traveling with the veterans will be 50 volunteer guardians, who are paying $300 for the day and are responsible for helping with comfort and safety issues.Stevens said he would be accompanied by his son, Paul, who recently retired from the Air National Guard.
Edmond Grandahl, 88, who served with the Army Air Corps, said he has been to Washington on business but never to sightsee. Grandahl worked in the manufacturing industry for years but is now retired, and is keeping busy by pursuing a master's degree in history at Central Connecticut State University."It's a real treat to get to go down there so we can appreciate all of the sacrifices, especially of those we've lost," said Grandahl of West Hartford.According to Coutu, there are about 72,000 World War II veterans in the state, but more than 7,000 die each year. Coutu said he decided to create American Warrior in part because his grandfather's brother, Edward Coutu, was moved into a convalescent home."I said, `This is not the way it should be,'" said Coutu, adding that he has a close relationship with Edward Coutu, 89, who will be on today's trip.
For Inzinga, the trip is especially meaningful because mariners of the Merchant Marine were not officially recognized as veterans until the late 1980s."For all those years, we weren't getting any benefits at all," he said.Inzinga said his first Atlantic crossing was memorable because, after dropping off 12,000 U.S. troops in Scotland, the ship picked up 7,000 Canadians and sailed in a convoy toward Sicily. While in the Mediterranean Sea, the convoy was attacked by German planes. Inzinga said that while his ship was unscathed, another in the convoy was damaged and had to be beached.Part of the intrigue about Saturday, Inzinga said, is the possibility of meeting another crew member from the E.B. Alexander, or perhaps someone who traveled on the ship."I'm looking forward to seeing someone that maybe I saw before," Inzinga said, adding: "The day will be over before you know it, but I'll remember it for a long time."Another trip to Washington for veterans is being planned for the spring.
For more information, visit http://www.americanwarrior.us/.