Bay Ridge

City Council Candidate Liam McCabe learns valuable lesson about honor on the National Honor Flight

June 23, 2017 By John Alexander Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Liam McCabe with his grandfather Charlie Kerr and state Sen. Marty Golden. Photos courtesy of Liam McCabe

Bay Ridge Veteran Charlie Kerr Visits the National WW II Memorial for the First Time

At a time when families are honoring their fathers and grandfathers, City Council candidate Liam McCabe reminisced about a special journey he recently took with his war hero grandfather. 

In April, 50 proud veterans from the New York City area were invited to fly to Washington, D.C. on the Big Apple Honor Flight. Most of the vets had served in World War II and were given the opportunity to take the daylong journey to visit landmarks such as Arlington National Cemetery, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the National World War II Memorial.

Among those taking the historic trip was City Council candidate Liam McCabe, who accompanied his 94-year-old grandfather Charlie Kerr on his first visit to the nation’s capital. McCabe called his grandfather his role model.

“Charlie Kerr, my mother’s father, was born and raised in Bay Ridge. He lived through the Great Depression here in Bay Ridge, and he went to Our Lady of Angels [OLA] grammar school.”

The flight was a genuine bonding experience for McCabe and Kerr. The proud veteran told his grandson stories that he’d never shared with him before about growing up in Brooklyn during the 1930s and ’40s. During those years, Kerr raised a family, worked for the United States Postal Service, was a member of St. Anselm parish and was a diehard Yankees fan. McCabe called him “a very straight-laced guy, an upstanding citizen, the bedrock of the community and of my life.” 

At least that’s what McCabe had already known about his grandfather. On the flight, he discovered more facets to his story. McCabe learned that with jobs being scarce during the Great Depression, Kerr decided to leave school after the eighth grade and search of work. He left home at 14 with a friend, hopped aboard a freight train and traveled to Pennsylvania and then Ohio.

Kerr told McCabe that he lived in Hoovervilles (shantytowns built by the homeless during the Great Depression and named after President Herbert Hoover), and befriended the hobos in the train yards along the way. It was a means of survival as he continued to wander further away from home.

Kerr’s friend, who had originally left Brooklyn with him, decided to return home. Kerr chose to continue traveling and ended up in a small rural town down South. While wandering aimlessly around looking for work, he passed out in the street and was taken in by a compassionate farmer. The farmer listened to Kerr’s story and let him stay at his house and work on the farm.

After a few months, the farmer convinced Kerr that he had to go home to his family. Kerr’s mother welcomed him home with open arms and his father eventually forgave him for running away.

Kerr found a job with Western Union, and just when things had seemed to stabilize for him, World War II broke out and he joined the Army, where he was among the soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge.

Upon his return from the war Kerr met a young girl named Eleanor, whom he eventually would marry. They originally settled in the Bronx, where they had two children, McCabe’s mother Joann and a son Ronald. By the early 1950s the neighborhood they lived in had become too dangerous, so the family moved back to Bay Ridge. 

McCabe became involved with the Honor Flight while working with U.S. Rep. Dan Donovan. “While working with Donovan, the Honor Flight committee approached us, asking if they could work with us to promote the flight by reaching out to veterans. We put a press release out about it and helped advertise it.” 

The Honor Flight veterans and their sponsors first gathered at Floyd Bennett Field at 6 a.m. “There were so many people there,” McCabe said, “Marty Golden was there. We were just hanging out and eating bagels, when all of a sudden, all the veterans started talking to each other.  My grandfather was one of the older vets there.” 

When the veterans were escorted to JFK International Airport for the flight, they were greeted by a long line of state troopers, police officers, soldiers and sailors who stood up and applauded the veterans as they boarded the plane.

McCabe said that his grandfather was especially moved when they visited the National WW II Memorial. “That just overwhelmed him. My grandfather is not a guy who cries a lot, but I could see a tear in his eye when they said, ‘Welcome to your memorial.’ That hit him hard. It was a little jarring for him to see that this memorial was here for him.”

The experience so moved McCabe that he has vowed to hire a veteran for his administration should he be elected to the City Council. McCabe is one of three Republicans running in the Sept. 12 primary. Bob Capano and John Quaglione are also running for the GOP nomination. The Democrats running for the Council seat are Justin Brannan, Kevin Peter Carroll, Rev. Khader El-Yateem and Nancy Tong. 

“I also want to focus on getting our younger veterans linked back into the American Legion, because they are not as involved as they should be. Otherwise we will lose the VFW [Veterans of Foreign Wars] and the Legion.” 

McCabe believes that the culture has changed and it troubles him to think that Americans have become less patriotic. “I think we’ve become more disjointed, more racialized, more secular, more broken and less patriotic. There used to be more of a homogenous culture and I think that’s what brought people from different races and backgrounds together. You were a veteran. There was a commonality that was interwoven through American culture. Everyone was more patriotic. I want patriotism to be okay again, and I want us to recognize the service of our veterans.” 

As far as the Honor Flight program, McCabe said he would back it 100 percent. “These guys absolutely deserve every penny, so anything I could do help get them funding I would do. And from a promotional sense, they won’t find a better promoter. I am going to make sure everybody knows about it.

“The Honor Flight serves as closure for many of these veterans. It may be the last time they get together to celebrate their legacy.”