Local World War II veterans take Honor Flight, share stories

Hollister residents fly to Washington, D.C., tell their stories of service.

When three old warriors gathered around a kitchen table recently, the years quickly faded away as they recalled their younger selves as part of the "greatest generation" in the fight for the collective world’s survival against the tyranny of the Axis Powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) trying to overpower and destroy vast numbers of humanity.

Hollister residents Stan Giles, 91, and John Cardinalli, 95, sat around the kitchen table at Bill Macfarlane’s, 87, Ridgemark Golf and Country Club home to recount their most recent adventure, taking part in a Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., where they were saluted and honored as they were escorted to many of the nation’s memorials and museums. They were among 22 other World War II veterans who flew out of San Francisco at 6 a.m. Oct. 20, along with 25 volunteer “guardians”—whom they quickly befriended—as part of an effort to honor as many WWII veterans as possible before there are no more.

According to statistics released by the Veteran's Administration, World War II vets are dying at a rate of 640 per day. This means there are approximately 855,000 veterans remaining of the 16 million who served the nation in World War II. 

According to Honor Flight Network’s website, it was created, “…solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices. We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C. to visit and reflect at their memorials. Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill. Of all of the wars in recent memory, it was World War II that truly threatened our very existence as a nation—and as a culturally diverse, free society.”

These three men served in the Navy and Army as a pharmacist, radioman and even a spymaster. Their stories are as different as their three lives covering nine decades could be. But they do share a particular adventure — the Honor Flight.

A friend who had been on a previous Honor Flight told Macfarlane about it and how to submit an application online. He did and then told his friend, Cardinalli, about it. Giles said a friend of his told him about the program and he also applied. After they provided their discharge papers, they were approved to go on the flight.

The day before the departure on Virgin America, the three took a limousine to San Francisco. Each would have a guardian for the entire trip. Giles’ son, Chris, from Benbow, Calif., was his guardian. Cardinalli and Macfarlane were appointed a husband and wife guardian team, Troy and Sara Myers, from Brentwood, Calif. They landed at Ronald Reagan National Airport in the Nation's Capitol on Oct. 20.

“The guardians pushed us around in wheelchairs,” Macfarlane said. “They flew with us from San Francisco.”

“They had to apply to be guardians and they paid their own way,” Giles said. “They were real eager to go. They had relatives who were in World War II, and they wanted to see Washington, D.C.”

When they arrived at San Francisco International Airport, they were taken into a separate security area where a 20-piece band from El Camino High School greeted them with World War II-era boogie-woogie music.

“They had a group of USO volunteers,” Cardinalli said. “And they served us donuts and coffee just like they did in the old days.”

“When we landed in Washington, D.C. and as we taxied up to the airport, two fire trucks were on each side and they had the hoses going in a salute,” Macfarlane said.

The trio spent the rest of first day at the Hilton Hotel in Crystal City. The next morning they headed out in a specially equipped bus that could seat the 25 veterans in wheelchairs, along with their 25 guardians. The first stop was the National World War II Memorial , which opened to the public April 29, 2014 to honor the 16 million who served and more than 400,000 who died.

“It was so big,” Giles said of the memorial. “It must cover about 10 acres.”

“They had four or five Navy officers there to greet us,” Macfarlane said. “I looked at their insignias and didn’t know what they were. I’ve been away for a while, I guess. I said, ‘what unit are you guys?’ They said they were from the supply corps and were stationed at the Pentagon.”

“We had a police escort the whole trip,” Cardinalli said. “That was something to see.”

“Whenever we came to an intersection, they’d turn on their sirens and red lights and all the cars would pull over, and we went right through,” Giles added with a chuckle. “We went to the American History Museum. They put us all on the freight elevator from one floor to another. Then we went to the Women’s Service Memorial. They had the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), the WACS (Women's Army Corps), and nurses.”

Macfarlane said they later went to see the changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

“That’s when the rain poured,” he laughed.

“Did we have rain,” Giles laughed, too.

Later that night, back at the hotel, the veterans were treated to a special dinner, with music, and to their surprise each of their guardians got up and spoke about the individual veteran they were accompanying. That’s when the three discovered why their guardians had been so chatty during the five-hour flight to Washington, D.C. Like covert operatives, they had been gathering intelligence to use during the dinner to talk up each veteran’s life story.

Giles laughed at remembering what the guardians said.

“We won the war, he said good-naturedly, and described one of the guardians: “She was the guardian for another guy and she was from a place in Minnesota, about 20 miles from where I was born. Of course, she was only about 25.”

Macfarlane recollected the visit to Arlington National Cemetery, the Iwo Jima Marines Memorial and an odd comment by the tour guide that all three thought was a hoot, and they kept laughing as he told the story—because they knew the punch line.

“On the way up to the Iwo Jima Memorial, the road veered off to the right,” he said. “Over to the right were a bunch of outhouses (porta potties) and our tour guide said, ‘and on the left is the Iwo Jima Memorial, and on the right is the Jane Fonda Memorial.”

The three old vets laughed and applauded the reference to the actress who generated the rancor of Vietnam veterans—and obviously a couple World War II vets—by posing for photographs with a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun crew during the Vietnam War.

When it came down to what they enjoyed the most during the trip, Giles said he liked the Casson barn. This is where the six matching white horses of the Casson Guard used during funerals at Arlington are kept. Macfarlane said he particularly enjoyed the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. He said the four oldest members, including Cardinalli, of the group laid the wreaths at the monument.

“I was proud and happy they picked me out,” Cardinalli said. “It was something to see.”

The conversation took an interesting turn when it turned out that I, the reporter, along with Giles and Cardinalli, had all learned Morse Code in the military. That led to a debate about who could still understand and write the code the fastest. Cardinalli won. This led naturally into his story about service during the war.

Cardinalli’s wartime memories are what books and movies are based on. And, in his case, both are true. He served in the U.S. Army, and because he knew code and spoke Italian, he was recruited into the OSS, or the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor to the C.I.A. After receiving training in covert operations and running spies, he was sent to England, where he was teamed up with several agents who would ultimately parachute behind enemy lines into Nazi-occupied Europe.

As he was training his agents in his "style" of Morse Code, he told each that before they transmitted messages back to England they would first send three “dits” (in Morse Code the alphabet is broken down to dits and dots or dashes, i.e. "dit, dit, dit, dot" was code for the letter "V," which stood for victory). In this case, three dits stood for the letter "S." When he heard this, it would automatically tell him that the agents were sending the messages, and not a German pretending to be the agent.

“That came in handy,” he said. “We had two agents that the Air Corps dropped behind enemy lines. They dropped right into a German camp. The Germans grilled them. Later, we found that one guy got his ear cut off and they killed the other guy. The German radio operator from the camp started sending us messages. I knew it was the enemy. And since I had taught the agents, I knew their hand (style of sending code).”

On D-Day, during the invasion of Normandy, Cardinalli was waiting on a ship as the early waves of soldiers hit the beaches. He landed during the second wave at Omaha Beach and began to make his way across France, and into Holland, Belgium and Germany.

“We went across the Rhine River under cover of darkness and I joined the Dutch underground,” he said. “There were about 150 men.”

Cardinalli said the leader of the group had sent messages demanding 200 machine guns, cigarettes, blankets and medical supplies. Since he did not know if the messages were actually coming from the underground, he sent a message back that he wanted to meet the leader. They met and once satisfied, Cardinalli sent a message for the supplies to be sent. During that time, he and two agents were working with the underground. He said one man with the underground kept asking his agents what their mission was. They didn’t tell him and reported back to Cardinalli their suspicions that the man might be a German spy. When Cardinalli told the leader that he suspected the man was a traitor who was sabotaging some of the operations, the leader confronted the man and promptly killed him.

“There weren’t any more problems after that, so he must have been the spy,” Cardinalli said.

Later, Cardinalli was tasked to provide intelligence on enemy strength on their side of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. The bridge was still intact as the U.S. 9th Armored Division approached and captured it. But the German forces on the opposite bank were too strong and kept the allies from crossing. A week-long battle of dueling artillery ensued.

Cardinalli recruited a woman spy and they made their way across the river. They hid for several days, monitoring traffic and then she made her way into the town and over the next few days managed to get messages out about the German tanks and artillery strength. Using that information, he said, American forces captured the bridge and routed the Germans. He said the Polish woman, Katja, was so good at what she did he used her a number of times during different operations. Then one day she was killed when the Jeep she was in ran over a land mine.

As the war was coming to an end, he returned to Washington, D.C., aboard a hospital ship, the only transportation he could find, thinking he was bound for the Pacific as the war with Japan continued. He was told he was being transferred to the CBI (China, Burma, India) unit. Instead, he went on a 45-day furlough back home in Monterey, and the war ended. He returned to Washington and became involved with the Nuremburg War Crimes Trials in which high level Nazis were tried and hanged. His job required him to go through the files of those being tried.

After the war, Cardinalli returned home, where he was a commercial fisherman for several years. He quit fishing and became a painting contractor, then a land developer, and founded San Benito Bank with Macfarlane. Then, in 2014, he penned his book, 65 Years of Secrecy, which enabled him to finally tell his story publicly. The battle for Ludendorff Bridge was told in the 1969 movie, “The Bridge at Remagen.”

Giles and Macfarlane both served in the Navy. Giles joined June 23, 1943, right out of high school. He said he joined the Navy because he wanted to stay clear of foxholes. The Navy sent him to Farragut, Idaho, where he underwent basic training.

“They asked me what I wanted to do and I told them anything that either involved flying or typing,” he said. “They sent me to radio school in Memphis, Tenn. He was designated as an aviation radioman. "After that, I went to Jacksonville, Fla., for gunnery training on the 30-caliber machine guns. And then I went to flight training in Miami in a dive bomber squadron.”

Giles said he was sent to Norfolk, Virginia, to be assigned to fly in a torpedo dive bomber squadron aboard the aircraft carrier, USS Antietam, which ultimately was not commissioned until January 1945, after the war ended. The Navy was already reducing the number of dive bombers it needed, and Giles was sent to radar-jamming school at San Clemente.

“Then then sent me to Alameda and they told me I had to go through refresher training, and went back to Memphis and Jacksonville, and then Norfolk, and then the war was over,” he said and added, “Somebody was watching over me.”

After the war, he moved to Spokane, Wash., and began working as an iron worker. He eventually got into work as an accountant, working at canneries throughout California, eventually ending up at Heald College, then Gavilan College, where he taught accounting. He retired when he was 75.

Bill Macfarlane was a pharmacist mate and spent the entire war at various naval hospitals. He lived in Cody, Wyo. He said he graduated on March 16 and by the 26th, he was in boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill. After basic training, he went to the Naval Medical School in Portsmouth, Virginia. From there, he went back to Great Lakes to work at the Naval Hospital, where he stayed until the war ended.

After the war, he was attending the University of Wyoming when he got an unexpected call.

“I had forgotten that I had signed up for the Navy Reserves,” he said. “Then in 1950, I got this call from my dad and he said, ‘your orders are here.’ I said, ‘what orders?’ He said, ‘you’ve been activated.’ They called me back to San Francisco, and then they sent me to Oakland Naval Hospital.”

Three months later, he was transferred to a naval squadron headed for Korea.

“I told my skipper I didn’t want to fly and he told me to keep my nose clean and he’d send me on the next ship leaving,” he said. “The next ship was the aircraft carrier USS Essex. That’s where I spent the next two years.”

When the Korean War ended, he returned to college in Wyoming, and then began working for the Bank of America, where he stayed for the next 32 years, finishing off his career with three years for San Benito Bank.

John Chadwell

John Chadwell is a freelance photojournalist with additional experience as a copywriter, ghostwriter, scriptwriter, and novelist. He is a former U.S. Navy Combat Photojournalist and is an award-winning writer, having worked for magazine, newspapers, radio and television. He has a BA in Journalism and Mass Communications from Chapman University and graduate studies at USC Cinema School. John worked as a scriptwriting consultant, and his own script, "God's Club," was produced and released in 2016. He has also written eight novels, ranging from science fiction to true crime, which are sold on Amazon. To contact John Chadwell, send an email to: [email protected]