RIAFC Foundation Honor Flight Reunites Long Lost Friends: a first-hand account by guardian Holly Susi

haggerty_2Honor Flight Foxtrot guardian Holly Susi had the impossibly hard job of keeping a reunion surprise a secret from her veteran John Haggerty all day on the June 6th trip. What a joy it was, though, to be a part of this remarkable story, she said. She explains the emotional reunion here: Before this incredible reunion, John Haggerty of Westport, MA, last saw his old friend Albert Kushmeider of Delaware in 1945 when Mr. Kushmeider stood up for Mr. and Mrs. Haggerty as they got married. Before THAT, the two men had the shared experience of parachuting out of a B-24 over Yugoslavia. Mr. Haggerty was a ball gunner on the B-24 and was one of 11 service men who had to bail out of the plane when it took gunfire over rural Yugoslavia. Mr. Kushmeider, teasing his old friend at their June 6th reunion, reminded Mr. Haggerty that he’d had to push him out of the plane. “I told him I didn’t know if I could jump, so he pushed me out,” Mr. Haggerty explained. Mr. Haggerty was separated from his colleagues and it took him three weeks to work his way back to the American line. Sympathetic farmers, who were compensated by the U.S. Government for helping soldiers, snuck him back, farmhouse to farmhouse, to the lines, he explained to me as he and Mr. Kushmeider caught up on old times during the dinner on the night of our June 6, 2014 RIAFC Foundation Honor Flight. The two men barely touched their dinner as they peppered each other with questions. “What day did your family receive the MIA notice?,” asked Mr. Kushmeider. “December 18th,” replied his friend. “Mine got it on Christmas Eve,” said Mr. Kushmeider. The two reminisced about a certain sergeant who liked playing cards and moved on to what their lives are like now. Mr. Haggerty told his battle mate that his research pointed to the two of them being the only two from that plane to still be alive today. It was the Internet – and the RIAFC Foundation Honor Flight – that made this reunion possible. Mr. Haggerty’s daughter Sharon searched the Internet to locate Mr. Kushmeider and finally found his daughter online. The two e-mailed and Mr. Kushmeider’s daughter took her father on the two-hour drive to the Hilton BWI so that her father could be at the hotel when the RIAFC Foundation Honor Flight bus pulled up before its flight back to Rhode Island. Several times during the day of the trip, Mr. Haggerty said to me that he knew his daughter had been able to find his old friend online and he had hoped they would meet. After we left Washington, DC to head back to Baltimore with our WWII veterans, Mr. Haggerty turned to me and said that he had been hoping all day that he would see his old friend. “I had thought maybe I’d see Al at the World War II Memorial,” Mr. Haggerty told me. “It would have been nice.” It was so difficult to keep that secret – I couldn’t say a thing because until we walked into that hotel, we didn’t know for sure if Mr. Kushmeider would be there. When we walked in and Mr. Haggerty looked over and saw the man who had been his best man, he turned to me and exclaimed, “It’s my old friend, Al!” The two agreed that despite the nearly 70 decades lapse in communication, they knew each other immediately. The last words they shared as Mr. Haggerty was leaving for the airport were assurances that they’d try to plan a trip to spend more time together.