San Carlos resident Raule Hurtado remembers scenes from World War II like it was yesterday. At 17, he joined the U.S. Navy and was sent overseas to serve with the aviation squadron VPB-71.
Hurtado, now 88, recalls being shot down while aboard a PBY — a widely-used seaplane in the war — during the Battle of Luzon between the Allied forces and Japan in 1945. Hurtado remembers removing his life jacket and giving it to a fellow crew member who couldn't swim. Hurtado then treaded water for 20 minutes before being rescued.
“But there's a lot of things that I can't remember,” Hurtado said. “How I got out of the PBY, I don't remember that. It is a blank. I think about it every day but I can't come up with it.” He paused. “It's one big blank.”
For his heroism, Hurtado was awarded the U.S. Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.
While waiting to board a flight honoring WWII veterans at San Francisco International Airport on Friday, Hurtado said he was hoping to run into someone from his squadron. Like the others, he'd waited years to take this Honor Flight that was sending veterans to Washington, D.C., but none of the travelers looked familiar to him.
Still, Hurtado and the 29 other veterans on the flight swapped stories and felt a natural camaraderie among themselves. There's something about enduring the Second World War, they said, that almost makes them brothers even if they've never met.
Allen Pisenti, another veteran on the flight and a lifelong Bay Area resident, said he served in the Air Force as a radio operator during World War II. Pisenti, 92, joined the military in 1942 along with 10 of his childhood friends. He was the only one of them who returned home after the war.
The Honor Flight of Northern California, funded exclusively by private donations, has sent two to three groups of veterans to visit war memorials each year since 2009.
This trip included visits to the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Marine Corps War Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
Three volunteers with the United Service Organizations, including two whose fathers were veterans, traveled as guardians on the flight.