Wantagh High students reflect on life-changing WWII museum visit


Twenty Wantagh High School students said they experienced the honor of a lifetime when they accompanied the country’s greatest heroes to the National World War II Museum. Juniors and seniors were paired with World War II veterans for a trip to the museum, in New Orleans, April 19-21.

Sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation, the Soaring Valor program brings World War II veterans to the museum that was built in their honor. Wantagh High Principal Paul Guzzone said the opportunity became available to students in March, and within 48 hours of the announcement, 53 students submitted essays expressing their desire to attend.

Each veteran was paired with one student from Wantagh High School and upstate Lake George High School. Students said the trip helped them put their own lives in perspective, recognizing that the veterans had fought in a war at their age, and agreeing that the stresses of school pale in comparison.

At the May 4 Wantagh Board of Education meeting, students reflected on the trip and recognized the veterans who were paired with them. Christina West described her experience on the trip and her time spent with veteran Clifford Doering, a Marine who served in the Third Amphibious Battalion during the Battle of Okinawa.

“He’s probably the most interesting and amazing person I’ve ever met in my entire life,” West said of the veteran. “During our time together, he told me about a stay on the ship for four long months. He described how there was no fresh food or water, and the only source of bathing was to go in the saltwater or try to wash with the freshwater coming from the faucets when they would clean dishes.”

On their second day in the museum, Doering described to West something she said would stay with her forever.

“He said even though the enemy hurt everyone as much as they could, he forgave them,” West said. “He said he had no hatred for anyone that was involved in this war. It was a terrible time, but all he could do was forgive. I can’t put into words how much this trip meant to me.”

Senior Angelina LaMacchia said she learned about the opportunity to fly to New Orleans while driving home with her mother from Florida, where she was touring colleges, and she began writing her statement on why she wanted to be considered in the backseat of the car.

“I thought so many people would jump on this opportunity, that maybe if I got my material in early enough, I would have a higher chance of being selected,” LaMacchia said. “I never thought in a million years I would be lucky enough to actually have been chosen.”

She was paired with a 96-year-old veteran, Charlie Moore, and since the trip, they have stayed in touch, texting daily. LaMacchia recalled Moore’s story about being a deep-sea diver while stationed off the coast of Texas.

“Looking back on my time with my veteran, Charlie Moore, and the other veterans, I truly think what they did was incredible,” she said during the board meeting “I could not imagine voluntarily leaving home at that age and fighting in a war where my life was not guaranteed. I’m so appreciative of what they have done for this country because it has allowed me to live the life I do today.”

The veterans, their chaperones and the students departed from MacArthur Airport on April 19 for a chartered flight. In New Orleans, the students visited the seven-building museum with the veterans. They saw a performance by the Victory Belles, who sang popular 1940s songs, and they also watched a 4D movie that documented the war. The veterans and students toured museum exhibits focusing on different parts of the war, including the conflicts in Europe and the Pacific as well as historical events like D-Day.

The 20 students were accompanied by eight chaperones: Guzzone, Superintendent John McNamara, Assistant Principal Christopher Widmann, Director of Humanities Julie Rosslee, social worker Iris McNulty-Kline and teachers William Jackson, Deanna Pepe and Maria Prisco.

“In my 29 years in education, I have had lots of different experiences and traveled on various trips with students,” McNamara said, “and I’ve never had one quite like the three days that I had” in New Orleans.