LEWISTON, Maine — It’s been 76 years since World War II took Del Gendron away from Lewiston. This weekend, in a sense, it’s happening again.
The 92-year-old Navy veteran is joining several other veterans this weekend for a trip to Washington, D.C. with Honor Flight Maine.
Gendron says he was 18 years old and hadn’t even attended high school when he enlisted in the Navy in 1943.
"I woke up that next morning in boot camp and said, 'What the hell have I done?'” Gendron says now.
He was assigned to the Pacific, as a member of the Navy shore patrol, first in Hawaii and then on the island of Eniwetock. Like millions of others in uniform, Gendron came home after the war and went back to work. That started him on a path to success that exemplified what has been called the "greatest generation".
After growing the gas station business, Gendron bought a small construction company. That business grew to become Gendron and Gendron, one of the largest contractors in the area.
"I’ve been very successful, but I have also worked very hard," Gendron says.
And he is still at it. Gendron spends several hours each weekday operating a front end loader in the company gravel pit, loading dump trucks.
On Friday, however, he will take a day off to join Honor Flight Maine in a trip to visit the nation’s war memorials in Washington. His son, George, will make the trip with him.
Del Gendron, wearing his World War II veteran cap, says he’s looking forward to it.
"He is proud of his service," says daughter Diane Darling, adding that when her father is wearing the cap in public, people stop and thank him for servicing.
He may hear those words a lot with Honor Flight.