Goodfellow Airmen visit Big Spring veterans
By Airman Anne Gathua, 17th Training Wing Public Affairs
/ Published August 24, 2009
GOODFELLOW AFB, Texas --
For 20 Goodfellow Airmen, Aug. 1 was a day that will remain etched in their memories. This was the day they visited the Veterans Affairs Hospital, Big Spring, Texas.
"The purpose of the visit was to meet and interact with veterans," said Senior Airman Jonathan Blythe, 17th Comptroller Squadron. "It helped us look back at our history and experience, and helped us understand our past as the military, knowing it's what got us to where we are now. Without them, we wouldn't be wearing this uniform."
Senior Airman John Stark, 316th Training Squadron said interacting with the veterans was very enlightening. "Hearing about their military experiences reminded me of the many sacrifices that were made by earlier generations of Americans in service to their country," said Senior Airman Stark.
One of the veterans Senior Airman Stark spoke to was a 90-year-old Marine, who served in the South Pacific during World War II. After serving in Shanghai, China, for two years, his unit was sent to the Philippines. He was among those Americans who surrendered to the Japanese at Bataan in 1941.
The retired Marine's frank account about the hardships he and thousands of other Americans endured for three years as prisoners of war left an indelible impression on Senior Airman Stark.
"Though the terrible hardships were almost unimaginable for us young Airmen, we benefited from hearing about the grave sacrifices that he and many other Americans made," commented Senior Airman Stark.
For Airman 1st Class Bethany Reed, 316 TRS, the visit was an awesome opportunity to speak to the veterans and to hear their reflections on their time in service.
"It was really encouraging to see how enthusiastic they were even though they were in hospital," said Airman 1st Class Reed. "I learned so much about our history and was utterly amazed by every detail."
Blythe said the visit was a very fulfilling experience.
"A lot of times people do not appreciate the people who served before us," said Senior Airman Blythe. "Sometimes people who wear this uniform take it for granted. They don't know what took place prior to their lives. We got a good taste of reality, understanding what it took to serve back then. It gave us more of an appreciation for them."
Senior Airman Stark also had the privilege of listening to a former Marine Corps sergeant talk about his experience from three tours in Vietnam. He initially spoke about the many patrols and jungle combat depicted in documentaries on the Vietnam War, but after he heard about the language and culture training that linguists receive at Goodfellow, he talked about a cultural immersion experience that he had 40 years ago in the jungles of Vietnam. In conjunction with reconnaissance training on his third tour, he had intense contact with the Montagard Hill People of Vietnam for an extended period where he learned to speak their language, eat their food, and live as they did.
"As he spoke, it was apparent that he had developed an appreciation for the Montagard people and their way of life through this wartime experience," said Senior Airman Stark. "I felt honored to have him tell me about it, a positive experience amid war." Senior Airman Blythe urged fellow servicemembers to take advantage of such opportunities. He said regardless of the branch of service, servicemembers should always try to engage in anything that involves American military history and traditions. It all comes down to loving and being patriotic to America, he added.
"All in all, talking to the veterans was very important because it enabled multiple generations of Americans linked by military service to connect with each other," said Senior Airman Stark. "I enjoyed listening to them talk about their experiences and their subsequent lives and careers as civilians."
Senior Airman Stark said the veterans were grateful for the visit and enjoyed talking to the Airmen.
"Given the great sacrifices that many of these veterans have made, it was gratifying to them to see that ideals and values which motivated them to serve in the past were still important to young American servicemembers today," said Senior Airman Stark. "In this sense, I think the short visit by the Airmen meant more to the veterans than we will ever know. I encourage servicemembers to take time to greet and show an interest in the veterans they meet in their daily lives."
Airman 1st Class Reed said she felt blessed to be able to meet the veterans and was amazed to hear what they went through.
"I would go back again, and I recommend fellow servicemembers to pay them a visit because they truly are our heroes," she added.
Senior Airman Blythe was glad the other Airmen shared the same appreciation he did for the veterans at the hospital.
"It brightened up their day significantly due to the fact that we had so much compassion, curiosity and respect for everything they did," said Senior Airman Blythe. "Regardless of the rank, awards and decorations you may achieve, if someone cares for you, it means the world and nothing can ever replace that."