96-year-old vet gets his wish of visiting US Navy station

A 96-year-old World War II veteran who dreamed of returning to a Navy installation to reminisce about his more than 20-year naval career got his wish on Thursday.

Edmund DelBarone toured Naval Station Newport in a visit arranged by Denver-based nonprofit Wish of a Lifetime. After seeing some of the ships assigned to the base, he said he'd have no trouble taking them out to sea.

"It's exciting," he said after. "I didn't expect to see so much."

DelBarone attended boot camp in Newport after joining the Navy in 1940. He was amazed at how much the installation has grown, and he pointed out many buildings that weren't there nearly 80 years ago.

DelBarone, who spent much of his career at sea maintaining ships, said he was stationed on a destroyer during World War II. He wore a ball cap from the USS Wadleigh, one of the ships he served on.

"They trusted me a lot," he said. "They kept making me take out different ships, new ships, to make sure they were good enough."

A talented artist, DelBarone also painted emblems for naval ships and murals for Veterans of Foreign Wars posts.

DelBarone shared sea stories over lunch with Heath Cruse, a cook at the galley. Cruse said he wanted to know everything, from where DelBarone was stationed to what his favorite assignment was and what his ships were like. DelBarone liked the Navy so much because of the people he met.

"He's got great stories," Cruse said.

The naval station has hosted reunions for World War II veterans, but requests have dwindled as the veterans have aged.

The station makes every effort to let veterans visit, spokeswoman Lisa Rama said. She knew of four World War II veterans who have stopped by this year, including a 94-year-old who told his tour guides last week that his monthly paycheck was $22 early in his career.

Command Master Chief Paul King said the visits benefit the veterans and the sailors at the station today.

"To hear what it was like back in the day, it's a good eye opener, especially for some of the more junior sailors," he said.