By Staff Sergeant Martin Moleski, 445th Airlift Wing
/ Published June 03, 2007
DAYTON, Ohio -- They slowly emerged from the comfort of their rooms into the early summer heat. Some walked, others came by wheelchair. Their scars were visible; their pride never-ending. The veterans, our heroes, were surrounded by family, friends and caretakers.
But on this day, Airmen, both active duty and reserve, from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base gathered at the Veteran Affairs Medical Center to honor our veterans with a picnic. The annual event, sponsored by the Air Force Sergeants Association Kittyhawk Chapter 751, allowed for servicemembers past and present to share their experiences of defending freedom and ensured that our veterans will always be remembered.
After many finished their lunch, retired chief master sergeant and AFSA president, Ruben Garcia, took time to address the crowd. He thanked the veterans for their service and the Airmen for supporting their efforts.
"To the veterans, this is why we are here. We thank you for your service," the chief master sergeant said. "This picnic is an opportunity to thank the veterans, those who served before us. It's an opportunity to bring current members out from the base and to get them to interact with our veterans."
The AFSA holds two events every year at the VA Medical Center, one in the summer and one during the holiday season. Many reservists brought donations including socks, T-shirts, toiletries, shoes and books.
"All the things that we can just go out and buy and the things we take for granted, they just don't have that luxury, said Master Sergeant LaShunda Lewis, 445th Maintenance Operations Flight.
Sergeant Lewis worked with Master Sergeant Henry Harlow, 445th MOF, to box up all the donations before donating them to the veterans. Sergeant Harlow, who is also a member of the AFSA, said a lot of the veterans have outlived their families and AFSA sponsors the events to "take care of our Airmen past, present and future."
"It's just a great event," said Col. Colleen Ryan, 88th Air Base Wing Commander. "I'm proud to be a part of what AFSA and all organizations are doing to honor and just take care of people."
Colonel Ryan spent much of her time listening to the incredible stories of Walter Ellison who shared his memories as if they happened yesterday. Sitting in his motorized wheelchair, Ellison talked about his time as an assistant to the flight surgeon in the Army, and how much he appreciated the new generation of servicemembers taking a moment from their day to spend time with the veterans.
"Every time we have a picnic, I always meet someone new," Ellison said. "I love it when you come down here. I love it."
As live music played in the background, many had to lean in to be able to hear the veterans recall their stories. Even though their voices are weak, their minds are still strong.
Army Staff Sergeant George Allen told of his experience in World War II as a member of the 9th Infantry Division. In less than one year, Allen stormed the beaches at Normandy, marched through Belgium on his way to Germany before losing his right leg. He said he remembers on his way into Germany there were two ladies standing on each side of the street passing out sauerkraut to the American soldiers.
"We didn't have anything to put the kraut in," Allen said jokingly. "So we just held out our hands and they scooped it into our palms."
After returning home from combat, Allen worked as a civil engineer for more than 30 years, his wife, Patricia, said. He's been able to do everything he ever wanted, she said.
Girl Scout Troop 364 from Lima, Ohio presented the veterans with more than 15 hand-sewn blankets and pillow cases representing all four branches of our armed forces.
"We knew we wanted to get them to the veterans, but we weren't sure how," said Master Sergeant Greg Myers, 445th Security Forces Squadron. Sergeant Myers, whose daughter, Alexandra, presented one of the blankets said, "We decided this was a great way to show our appreciation to the veterans."
But on a day in which appreciation and recognition was given to our veterans for answering the call of duty and defending the freedom of our country, many could only say thank you. To be able to say thank you to a veteran is truly a surreal experience. For them to say thank you back is an honor.