Veteran shares emotional story of service

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Patrick O'Reilly
  • 445th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Members of the 445th Airlift Wing and 120 local veterans enjoyed a celebration of food and comradery during the Dayton Veterans Affairs Medical Center Holiday Party December 5, 2015.

Reservists served food in the lobby and delivered food to the rooms of veterans who were less mobile.

While visiting, I had the opportunity to meet a veteran and hear tales from another era.

William L. Jay, an Army private first class veteran who was drafted in 1951 and served during the Korean War, was sitting in his room watching television when the a couple Airmen stopped by to deliver his meal. The Korean War vet wore an orange long-sleeve shirt with 'Turkey Trot 2015" and had a blanket over his lap. He appeared content as he watched TV. Food and a soda were served to him in his room. He requested that each Airman visiting him sign his log book.

As I visited Mr. Jay, I was curious to hear his stories, so I requested that he share memories of his time in service.

Jay told me his tales about bayonet training from a scarred master sergeant; missing the assignment to Korea by one name; the endless tulip fields in Holland; and occupying a post war-torn Germany.

I asked him about his plans for the holidays.

"Well I hope I get to go home," he said.

I proceeded to ask him how the holidays were celebrated during his time of service.

He paused for a moment then said, "We got better meals than what we normally did."

"When I was in basic, they set the lights off in the mess hall and passed around a helmet. "They said 'take one piece of paper out of the helmet and pass it around.'"

"This was at Fort Bliss, Texas. They turned on the lights and said 'okay, everybody that got a red piece of paper can go home for Christmas and if you have a black one then you've got to stay at camp," said Jay. "Well the guy sitting next to me had a red piece of paper. I asked him, 'are you going home?' and he replied, 'I don't have any money to get off of the base let alone go home.'

"I asked him, 'what will you take for that?' and he told me a 20 dollar bill. So I gave him $20."

"I went to the airlines and they were they were all booked up,: said Jay "So I then went to the bus station."

Jay looks at me deep in thought.

"When you're in El Paso (Texas), heck you might as well be off the edge of the earth," said Jay. "We didn't have any through traffic."

Again, Jay stopped and appeared deep in thought.

This is where the holiday story almost ended. But I wanted closure on the Christmas story. I asked him if he got to see his family that Christmas.

"Yes," he replied. "It was just a long train ride home."

I thanked him for his service, signed his log book and said goodbye.

I plan to spend the holidays with family as well. I'm grateful that I will not have to depend on the drawing of a red ticket (or someone else's for that matter) out of a helmet. Not all opportunities are paved with the path of convenience. Jay must have known that, and he acted accordingly.

Jay saw his family in West Milton, Ohio the year of his basic training in 1951. He hopes to see them again this year. He spent his Thanksgiving dinner with his family last month.