Editorial: Monday mix on World War II Memorial; foster youth; farm drones

  • Eugene DeFilippo, of Easthampton, hugs a woman who recently lost her father, also a veteran, at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on April 6. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Monday, April 16, 2018

Eugene DeFilippo has experienced a lot in his 93 years — from flying 52 bombing missions during World War II to mentoring hundreds of youths as a history teacher, vice principal and football coach at Northampton High School.

He added another sweet memory April 6 that he shared with his 92-year-old wife, Anne, at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. Because the DeFilippos had never seen the cherry blossoms in full bloom, they drove 7½ hours from their home in Easthampton to visit their daughter, Adele Tatro, 60, who lives in Virginia.

Once in Washington, the DeFilippos decided to revisit the memorial. “Of course, I’m using a cane, and people were complimenting me because I had an Air Force retiree hat on,” DeFilippo says. “One woman practically attacked me — she threw her arms around me and thanked me.”

That woman had recently lost her veteran father.

Tatro describes that emotional moment for her family: “He’s crying, I start crying, my mother starts crying. He was so overwhelmed, even though he’s seen it before.”

DeFilippo adds, “It was rather moving. And it brings back some memories — some good and some bad.”

DeFilippo joined the military at age 18 and flew B-24s from Italy. “We were young and we were foolish,” he recalls. “I joined the Army Air Corps six months out of high school.”

When DeFilippo came back from the war, he used the GI Bill to attend the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, where he was a quarterback on the football team. DeFilippo went on to coach football from 1955 to 1968 at Northampton High School, where he also was a longtime vice principal.

His advice to today’s generation of students: “I think the thing youngsters should have is some belief or goal of what they want to do and stick to it with perseverance. They have to stick their roots into it.”

Well said, sir.

* * *

Noryn Resnick, of Amherst, has sent a lot of well-dressed youngsters to their proms since she started Fitting for the Future four years ago. She describes the event as a “day of yes.”

This year, it was held April 7 at Tower Square in Springfield, where some 75 young people in foster care selected prom dresses, suits and accessories. Rows of shoes lined tables near the dressing area, and there were displays of scarves, belts and purses.

Volunteers used five sewing machines to hem and tailor the clothing to fit the young people. Also volunteering were stylists who did hair and makeup and gave out beauty kits.

“Kids in foster care don’t have access to a lot of these items and they spend a lot of their time waiting,” says Resnick, executive director of HelpOurKids, a nonprofit that supports children in foster care in western Massachusetts. “Some kids have never had their hair done, have never felt pretty. They can’t ask for it; they don’t have a voice. This is a chance for them to make decisions and choices for themselves.”

She was echoed by Adriana Gonzalez, 19, of Springfield, who was among the young people who benefited: “They give us a voice and a look to go with that voice.”

* * *

Kudos to six engineering students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Hampshire County Radio Controllers for forging an unusual partnership that aims to help farmers, and eventually improve public health.

The UMass students are developing a pest-control product that will be spread on farmland by drones. The first application they plan is a chemical called Mosquito Bits, which when dropped in water grows a bacteria that kills mosquito larvae without harming people or animals.

Because the students know little about operating a drone, they turned to the local group of remote-controlled flying vehicle hobbyists for training.

Ryan Smith, the UMass mechanical engineering student leading the project, said his team is grateful for the help. “They also taught us about the inner workings of drones such as batteries, GPS and telemetry, which is vital to getting our system to work without any issues.”

The students hope that some day their practice on fields in Hadley pays off in fighting mosquito-borne illnesses such as the Zika virus and malaria.