Holidays at the home; A connection to fellow veterans

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Charlie Miller
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
The main dining facility at the Dayton Veterans Affairs Nursing Home on Gettysburg Drive was a busy place Dec. 7, 2013, Pearl Harbor Day. The young and the old, the uniformed and formerly uniformed along with the Air Force Band of Flight's Wright Brass gathered for a delightful holiday lunchtime party.

"This lifts up the veterans spirits," said resident and Army veteran Danny Sanford. "Some of us here don't have family and we appreciate this party."

About two dozen members of the 445th visited with the veterans, helping them get their lunch and find an empty seat. In some case, they cut up food or even fed veterans.

The dining area was busy. There was a mountain of good food, wonderful live music, door prizes and dozens of bright decorations, but for me the real attraction is hanging out with the veterans.

It's been my good fortune to meet and talk with men and women of all ages from all branches of the military that live there. Some have friends and family that visit, call or write. Other residents, sadly, have literally no one. I firmly believe my walking up to them in my uniform stirs something in both of us. It turns out that we both served proudly.

As with any facility of this type, some of the residents cannot physically come to the party. The wards have small dining areas which are used by some of the residents and others eat in their rooms. I guess you could say we took the party to them.

"When you get an organization that pours its heart out to thank us, it's great," said John Howard, a resident and Marine Corps veteran. "I feel grateful for those who thought of us."

One year some of us took food into the Alzheimer's ward, which was particularly tough but, you know, these are fellow military members deserving of a visit and our attention even if it's only for a few minutes. I said to one of the nurses that I bet she gets to hear some interesting war stories. "Oh, you wouldn't believe the stories we hear," she answered. I'll bet not.

"This is a small way to give back to some very important people," said Chief Master Sgt. Charles Hoffman, 88th Air Base Wing Command Chief. He was there visiting and serving the veterans along with about two dozen other active-duty members, retirees, Air Force Sergeant's Association members and Air Force Association members. The AFSA and AFA once again led the way sponsoring the 18th annual party for the residents and patients at the VA center.

Clearly, it's a time to give and not receive. I can't say it any other way and that truly is the bottom line. Years ago I was interviewing an active-duty staff sergeant at the party who'd just got back from Iraq and he said "this is all about helping people out, that's what it comes down to. These are people who served before us and I feel it's an honor to be here."

Retired Master Sgt. Steve Adams, 445th Civil Engineer Squadron, volunteered his barbering skills giving free haircuts to the residents. Adams is part of a family hair care business located just outside Dayton in Northridge. One of the employees from his barbershop also cut hair for the veterans.

"Once you start doing something you realize that you get a lot more than you give," Adams said. "This makes my holiday season. I look forward to this every year; it's my way of giving back to the veterans."

The AFSA has been sponsoring this party, a summer picnic and other events at VA centers locally and around the country forĀ more thanĀ 30 years now.

"This is a way to give back to those who have fought for our country in the past," said Senior Airman Anna Roberts, 445th Operation Support Squadron.

Master Sgt. Henry Harlow, 445th Maintenance Squadron, routinely told the veterans in years past that he was there to visit them and "to see where I'm going to be living" in the future. Needless to say, the vets always got a kick out of Harlow's line.

I had a senior airman tell me that being at the VA for the party gave her a real sense of giving and that by talking with the vets she found out that they used to do what she does now. How cool is that?

"Systems Go," the light jazz duo from the Air Force Band of Flight, usually plays at the party but are currently deployed. Wright Brass filled in without missing a beat. Their music set a comfortable and festive mood for the party.

"One of the best parts of our jobs is being able to spread cheer to the veterans," said Master Sgt. Mike Richter, NCO in charge of the Band of Flight.

Retired 87th Aerial Port member Tech. Sgt. David Woods told me in 2006 that for him the party was a history lesson. Wow, what a way to put it. Woods suggested that everyone in the wing should do this at least once. He was dead on, 100% correct. Next December, or at the summer picnic, come out and connect with the veterans. It could just be a life changing experience. It has been for me.

(Editor's note: Master Sgt. Miller who will be retiring in January of 2014 has covered this event for 13 years.)