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Flyover honors Fleming Island Navy veteran who died of COVID-19

LeRoy Honsinger didn’t get the service he deserved, but family said goodbye as best they could

FLEMING ISLAND, Fla. – A memorial flyover took place Thursday morning in honor of an 82-year-old Fleming Island man who died last week from complications related to COVID-19.

LeRoy Honsinger was a Navy veteran born in Troy, New York, who moved in 1972 to Orange Park, where he raised his family. He was laid to rest at Jacksonville Memory Gardens.

A group called the Dreamland Squadron flew over the cemetery in what’s called a missing man formation to honor Honsinger, who was not able to have a full military service because of restrictions surrounding the pandemic.

“Those of us here at this community full well know the rites of military burial. It’s quite an impressive thing, and it was very sad to us that he did not receive that, so this is just our littlest bit of reach out to him as a fellow Navy man and to his family,” said Joe Kannapell, a retired U.S. Navy captain.

While the pilots taking part in the memorial flyover did not know Honsigner personally, they said the military is a brotherhood and they wanted to do their part to honor Honsinger’s service, since the circumstances prevented a military funeral.

“It’s called a missing man formation and that person is typically on the right hand side of the leader and right over the gravesite, typically -- we try -- he will pull up and away, signifying that that’s the person who is no longer with us and now you have a flight that is missing somebody,” said Dennis Gillespie, retired Navy Air Wing commander.

Honsinger’s obituary said the veteran entered the Navy at the age of 17, and he served many tours, participated in a naval blockade and retired a Petty Officer First Class ordnance man. Honsinger was awarded the National Defense Service Medal and five Good Conduct Awards for Service, which then led to a 21-year career with CSX transportation.

Honsinger’s daughter, Barbara, told News4Jax the most tragic part of having a loved one pass because of coronavirus is that you cannot be hand in hand with them as they are saying their final goodbyes.

The pilots said they will do another formation flyover when all the family all can be here.

“To say thank you. I know you where you’ve been; I know what you’ve done. And this is a small thing I can say thank you for,” said Mike Pankiewicz, retired Air Force.

“One of the great things about what we’re doing is that we all have this passion for flying, and we have found a way to make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Don Yoakely, retired Navy pilot.

“It’s not about us. When we’re done, we walk away and we feel good about what we did,” Gillespie said. “That’s all.”


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