Stanley Rosenberg was "just one of those New York kids who got called into action" at 18. And for the next 18 months he didn't see land.
Rosenberg's actions — and those of the men alongside him on the USS Langley (CVL-27), an 11,000-ton Independence-class light aircraft carrier that served the U. S. Navy from 1943 to 1947 — helped the United States secure victory in World War II.
"That is what won the war," Rosenberg said from his home in Pembroke Pines, of the U.S. Navy ships. There were nearly 1,200 by the end of World War II, along with 27 aircraft carriers.
Early Saturday morning — 4:30 a.m., to be exact — Rosenberg, now 93, will relive his military years as he and about 70 other World War II and Korean War vets embark on an Honor Flight from Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport to Washington to commemorate their service to the country.
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They will be traveling on Allegiant Air charter flight 1941. The flight number is named for the year the United States entered World War II after the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese.
Saturday's mission won't last as long as Rosenberg's time in the South China Sea and Philippines aboard the Langley. He served on the ship from 1943 to 1945.
The vets will be returning nearly 16 hours later on another Allegiant Air charter flight, number 1945 — the year the war ended. They will arrive at Terminal 2 at FLL at 8:30 p.m.
The emotions and memories overtake Rosenberg, as assuredly they will for his fellow servicemen on the journey.
Aboard the Langley in the 1940s, Ensign Rosenberg didn't see anyone but the men who shared the same life-and-death mission — protecting the nation. He remembers enemy suicide bombers raining hellfire on his crew mates.
"All the guns were firing like hell. I was below deck and didn't see it but I did hear it," Rosenberg recalled of one such attack on the South China Sea. "I was young. I was worried. Am I next? I got scared stiff. Who wouldn't?"
All these years later, Rosenberg can still hear the sound of a nearby freighter exploding near the Langley — probably sunk "by a floating bomb," he said.
Rosenberg also remembers an American plane crashing on the Langley and a pilot jumping to safety just before impact. Crew members pushed the wreckage into the ocean and brought the pilot on board the aircraft carrier.
Rosenberg still has a photo from that day and other memorabilia at the home he shares with his girlfriend of some eight years, Ruth Loewy, who is also 93 and, like him, active and full of life.
"I can't keep up with them," laughed his son Michael, who will make the trip with his father.
Back then, for 18 long months at sea, the ensign didn't see a single woman.
"I heard them," he acknowledged in a telephone interview. "They brought some ladies aboard when we anchored in some place — but they all stayed in the officers' quarters."
Michael laughed when he told of a photo he'd seen of his father from that period. "There was a picture of him in the Philippines and he was with a woman. Probably a prostitute. Was the first woman he'd seen in 18 months."
After the war, the U.S. government sent Rosenberg a large picture of the USS Langley carrier, marked with its route. The photo is a cherished keepsake. "I've got it hanging on my wall. We can learn a lot looking at that thing," he said.
Rosenberg revels in the memories of his long-ago Navy experience.
"My father talks about those days in the war and he just brightens up — it's almost like he's still on that aircraft carrier," his son said. "His conversation starts with, 'I was in the Navy.'
"There's something about those guys' mentality. If they lost, we're done. Think about it. One country after another was being taken over by Germany and the Japanese. They didn't have the type of weapons and communications that we have today. They had to win. That kind of informs you to become a certain kind of character," his son said.
Saturday's mission will be celebratory, reverent, uplifting, perhaps heartbreaking, and certainly laden with surprise.
The veterans and their family members will be feted with a welcoming homecoming salute and parade upon arrival Saturday night at the airport. The veterans will be greeted as returning war heroes.
This closing Operation Homecoming event is meant as a surprise for the veterans. There will be other surprises aboard the charter flight, too, his son said.
"A lot of special things happen when you come home. He doesn't know there will be about 500 to 1,000 people to greet you, waving flags and screaming and cheering like you came home from the war," said Michael.
Aboard the flight, the World War II and Korean War veterans will have a reenactment of mail call. During their time overseas, soldiers looked forward to letters from home. Some 74 years after serving his two years in the Navy, Rosenberg will hear a familiar clarion call:
"Mail call! Stanley Rosenberg," his son Michael demonstrated in booming voice. "Mail call was really important to those guys. They couldn't phone or email."
Rosenberg's granddaughter, Rachel O'Connor, a third-grade teacher at Joella C. Good Elementary School in Hialeah, had her class write letters to Rosenberg for the occasion. These were earmarked for delivery on board the Honor Flight.
"He'll have 100 letters," his son said. Theoretically, the veterans are not aware of these and other surprises, like the Operation Homecoming parade, that await them.
The whirlwind tour to Washington includes stops at Arlington National Cemetery, the World War II Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial (formerly known as the United States Marine Corps Memorial), the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and the Korean Veterans Memorial.
Rosenberg, who, with his wife Mary, started a shoe business in Kentucky and raised two sons, moved to Century Village in Pembroke Pines in 2004. Mary Rosenberg died that year of complications from Parkinson's.
Rosenberg has been to see some of the memorials in Washington on two previous visits, he said. He recalled the Changing of the Guard, "a wonderful thing to see."
He's especially looking forward to this Honor Flight. "I'm going to love it," he said.
The Honor Flight program began in Springfield, Ohio, in 2005, co-founded by Earl Morse, a retired Air Force captain who wanted to bring as many WWII veterans as possible to see the World War II Memorial while they are physically able. The non-profit Honor Flight organization expanded to other communities, called hubs., of which there are about 130, including several in Florida.
"When they walk into that memorial and see that their friends will never be forgotten and that the sacrifice they paid will always be cherished and revered and will always be honored by this nation — they are taken aback by that," Morse said in an Honor Flight video.
In addition to Saturday's journey, an Honor Flight out of Miami International Airport is planned for June 2.
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 558,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2017 — with 54,279 in Florida. About 362 World War II vets are dying every day.
"The oldest on this trip is 98; my father will be 94 in October, so he might be one of the younger ones," Michael said.
On the eve of his trip, Rosenberg got emotional once: When asked what he thought of flag protests, which recently took the form of NFL players taking a knee during the national anthem.
Rosenberg's voice broke. He remembered the one constant on that Langley aircraft carrier more than 74 years ago: The American flag, flying in the back of the ship.
"I was on that ship for two years and every time I went to the back of the ship I would think about it." Rosenberg fights back tears. "I'd look up at that flag and I'd say, 'That's America.' ''
Operation Homecoming Parade
To honor the South Florida World War II and Korean War vets who will return from the Honor Flight at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 14, organizers suggest arriving at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport's Terminal 2 about 45 minutes earlier to secure a spot in the receiving line and view the Operation Homecoming Parade. Park in the Palm Garage. Wear red, white and blue and bring an American flag to wave. "Bring the kids, too, and encourage them to make a lot of noise."
How to nominate a veteran for an Honor Trip
To register a veteran for a future all-expense paid Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., visit www.honorflightsouthflorida.org.
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