WWII vet Ron Hadley takes an honor flight

MIDDLEBURY — Thousands of people each year tour the Marine Corps War Memorial near Washington, D.C.
Based on the iconic photograph taken by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal, the memorial immortalizes the six soldiers who raised the second American flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi on Feb. 23, 1945, thus heralding the beginning of the end of the U.S. campaign in the Pacific during World War II.
Middlebury’s Ron Hadley is one of the few living Americans who can look at that memorial scene and say, “That’s how I remember it.”
Hadley, 97, personally witnessed the flag raising at Iwo Jima through field glasses as he stood on the deck of the USS Thurston (AP 77) troop transport.
Thanks to the North Country Honor Flight (NCHF), Hadley was recently able to view — for the first time — the stunning Marine Corps tribute and a series of other Washington, D.C., memorials honoring veterans like himself.
“You recognize what it meant to you and what it meant to our country, ” Hadley said of his Oct. 19 trip. “That’s what the objective of all this was. I think this trip was certainly advantageous and I take my hat off to the people who put it together and have kept it going.”
Hadley, formerly of Lincoln, was one of four regional World War II veterans who took part in the all-expense-paid trip to the nation’s capital. Three of the four participating veterans were New Yorkers; Hadley was the lone Vermonter. Each was allowed a companion to help them during the trip. In Hadley’s case, it was friend Liam English.
Hadley’s many friends — including fellow Rotarian Roth “T” Tall of Cornwall — have long admired his service and believed he was deserving of the NCHF trip.
The non-profit NCHF was founded in 2013 with the goal of introducing area veterans to the memorials that were built in their honor. The NCHF has thus far made 17 flights, bringing a combined total of 254 veterans to D.C. for whirlwind tours of national tribute sites.
All four men got VIP treatment. Hadley was driven to the Plattsburgh airport in a cortege that at times included cruisers — with sirens and lights flashing — representing Middlebury Police, Vermont State Police, New York State Police and United States Park Police. Around a dozen motorcyclists representing various veterans’ groups also tagged along.
Hadley is indeed one of Addison County’s most distinguished veterans.
He was raised in California and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942 while studying business administration at San Jose State University. He was allowed to complete his college studies prior to shipping off to boot camp at Columbia University in July of 1943.
Hadley made the grade at Columbia, graduating with an officer’s commission (ensign) in November of 1943. He received orders to report to Little Creek, Va., where he dispensed — and received — training in the use and deployment of small boats. The “small boats” were 36-foot LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) or 50-foot LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized). They were the troop-transport workhorses of the major invasions during World War II.
Ultimately, Hadley was assigned to the Thurston AP77, which he boarded in New York City in March 1944.
MIDDLEBURY RESIDENT RON Hadley stands with his wife, Belle, for a photo before he is whisked off to Plattsburgh for an Honor Flight trip to Washington, D.C., last month. Escorting Hadley to the airport were a dozen motorcyclists, members of Middlebury and Vermont State Police, and friend Liam English. Hadley, 97, was a member of the U.S. Navy during World War II and participated in the invasions of both Normandy and Iwo Jima.
Photo courtesy of Max Krauss
After much training, Hadley participated in some of the most critical military operations of the war, including the invasions of Normandy and Iwo Jima. Hadley vividly described his D-Day experience during a November 2012 interview with the Independent.
His amphibious landing craft that day was carrying 36 people, most of them combat engineers equipped with plastic explosives designed to take out any Nazi obstacles left on the beach. As they got closer to the beach at Normandy, the landing craft reverberated with the sounds of explosions and gunfire.
“Just as the ramp dropped, they started a crossfire of machine gun fire right across the bow of our boat — and this is the part that is always tough to live with — I have every belief that all 36 guys were killed immediately,” Hadley said during the interview.
The four boat personnel, including Hadley, were protected behind steel compartments and survived the deadly volley as they raised the ramp and headed back toward the U.S. fleet. There, Hadley and his crew loaded more soldiers for what would be the 27th wave. This trip went a lot better.
These and other scenes played back in Hadley’s still-keen mind during his recent D.C. trip.
“When you got there, it brought back memories — both good and bad — of your wartime experiences,” he said.
While Hadley can still walk with the aid of a cane, he and his fellow veterans were offered the comfort of wheelchairs as they were escorted from site to site. Their stops included the U.S. Air Force Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington National Cemetery, and the World War II, Korea and Vietnam memorials.
Participating veterans were able to take photos and hear details about the sites they visited. Hadley and his companions received jackets and other goodies from the NCHF.
“It was very impressive,” Hadley said of the weekend trip.
Unfortunately, Hadley met no one from his World War II days. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, only 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II are still alive.
“There aren’t too many out there any more,” Hadley said. “My buddies in the military are all gone. I don’t know anyone who I served with who’s still around. It’s a dwindling population.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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