Russ deCastongrene in Naval Uniform

Veteran Russ deCastongrene Embarks on Honor Flight to D.C.

On May 18, 2024, a resident of Wesley Des Moines soared to new heights on a trip to Washington, D.C. The complimentary trip was organized by the nonprofit Puget Sound Honor Flight. The organization is dedicated to honoring Western Washington veterans. Russ deCastongrene, a Korean War veteran, reflects on the unexpected opportunity.

“The whole thing was well organized, and all the monuments were impressive. I never expected a trip like this. I got to meet a lot of people from every branch,” Russ shares.

Russ deCastongrene during Honor Flight

Puget Sound Honor Flight serves more than 1,500 local veterans from the WWII, Korean, and Vietnam service eras. Flights depart four times a year from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Each flight transports approximately 55 veterans and an equal number of support staff. Russ was treated to a memorable send-off starting with friends gathering at Wesley for heartfelt farewells in the early morning.

Every moment was filled with gratitude, including a specialty-adorned plane wrapped in patriotic colors and the American flag displayed on the wingtips. On the tarmac, a group held a large banner bidding them farewell. Upon arrival in Baltimore and Seattle, an enthusiastic crowd greeted them. At SeaTac, a contingent of active-duty personnel from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, adorned in their diverse uniforms from different eras, offered handshakes amidst the sound of bagpipers and fluttering banners.

“The trip was amazing. I especially liked the Korean War Memorial. It was really well done. The list of fallen soldiers was impressive,” Russ reflects.

Over two days, the veterans visited the World War II, Korean, and Vietnam veterans memorials, as well as the United States Navy and Lincoln memorials. On the second day, they paid homage at the Arlington National Cemetery, including the Military Women’s and US Marine Corps War memorials. They witnessed the elaborate Changing of the Guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

As he prepared for his Honor Flight experience, Russ reflected on a life well-lived, marked by service, camaraderie, and a passion for aviation. His professional journey began in 1953 at the McDonald Aircraft Corporation in St. Louis. Russ soon joined the Navy that same year. Encouraged by his father to enlist, Russ embraced this new chapter and was sent to Officer Candidate Schools throughout the country, including Jacksonville, Florida, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

USS Intrepid Battleship

After completing his training, Russ was assigned to the USS Intrepid, one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during WWII for the United States Navy. Regarded as The Fighting “I,” the Intrepid was renowned for surviving numerous attacks by Japanese kamikaze aircraft and a torpedo strike. In the early 1950s, it made history as the first carrier to launch aircraft using American-built steam catapults after being modernized and recommissioned as an attack aircraft carrier. After sailing to the Mediterranean, he furthered his Naval career, being reassigned to the Naval Aircraft Factory in Philadelphia to test steam-powered catapults for the Navy.

Reflecting on his career, Russ fondly recalls the camaraderie and expertise of his colleagues, many of whom were veterans of WWII, “I had a fun time. I enjoyed the whole thing,” he shares. “I watched airplanes, and the people were incredible. They were very talented and skilled.”

Upon retiring from active duty in 1956, Russ continued his service in the Navy reserves until his final retirement in the late 1970s. When he transitioned into civilian life, he continued his fascination with aviation as a volunteer at The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field near Seattle. His dedication and passion for aviation history eventually led him to become a docent, guiding tours through the museum and sharing the rich stories behind the exhibits.

“We have great people,” Russ remarks about his volunteer work. “The tours coming through have a lot of stories.”

Russ and his wife, Pat, have found a comfortable and vibrant community at Wesley. After considering various options for retirement living, they were drawn to Wesley for its welcoming atmosphere, abundant amenities, and commitment to later-care services. Russ especially enjoys the social aspects of life at Wesley, including musical activities such as sing-alongs and vespers on Sunday nights.

“We’re very happy with Wesley. The people are friendly, and they have a lot of things to do,” said Russ.