A SPECIAL DAY WITH A WWII VETERAN
Written by: Quinn Bates, Heart ‘n Home Volunteer
In October, he shared with me that his favorite airplane was the A-10 Thunderbolt. He went on to name the reasons why. I was amazed to learn this, as I had no idea since it was not a navy plane. Also, an idea popped into my mind immediately upon hearing this, as I still have connections at the Idaho Air National Guard, where my husband served for 29 years, retiring as a commander and I volunteered in Military Family Support. Since the Air Guard is A-10 mission based, I thought it could be a nice opportunity to get him a tour so he could see the plane up close, ask questions, and see how they operate. I asked Gordon that day if he thought he would like for me to pursue this idea. He said he would think about it, as he wasn’t getting around very well.
After working out the logistics and details with the Lee family and officer at the Idaho Air National Guard, we set the date and proceeded. I also asked the Lee family if I could involve my own family in this event, since my husband retired from and my son currently serves in the Air National. Gordon always asks about my husband, since we have shared military stories, so I thought it would be extra special for them to meet. My son works in the Metals Tech Shop and really enjoys volunteering for veterans. He is also very talented in welding and machining and I thought he could help me come up with an idea for a special presentation for Gordon (and as you will see later in the story, he had the perfect idea).
The day finally arrived! I met the Lees just outside the Air National Guard base and we drove in together. Gordon’s son, daughter-in-law, and her sister joined us for the tour. We went straight to the 190th Fighter Squadron, where Lt. Col. Mike Knowles and my son, TSgt Phil Bates were waiting for us to arrive. When they saw us drive up, they came out to the car and took control assisting Mr. Lee into his wheelchair and escorting him for the remainder of the afternoon. We were taken directly to the very simulator where the pilots do their training. It is set up just like being in the cockpit of an A-10 with an exact replica of the terrain and movement like flying. It was an amazing opportunity. Gordon was not able to climb into the cockpit, but he could sit/stand just behind the pilot seat or watch on a computer screen just outside the room as his family each got a turn flying the simulator. The 1st Lt. that assisted us in the simulator took his time to explain the buttons, knobs, and dashboard of the A-10 Thunderbolt.
We then followed Lt. Col. Knowles and TSgt Bates, who pushed Gordon in the wheelchair, over to the A-10 main hanger where all the maintenance work is done. When we arrived, MSgt Mark Klaudt was waiting to greet Gordon and his family and take them on the tour of the hanger floor. We were lucky enough that there were 4 A-10s in various stages of maintenance on the floor. MSgt Klaudt explained about the scheduled maintenance programs and answered many questions about the A-10. He explained the mission of the A-10 and showed the Lee family around so that Gordon could get right up next to the airplane to see many of the important details. MSgt Klaudt brought out an A-10 bullet casing so that Gordon could see the size of the 30 mm rounds that are fired from the A-10. (This is something that Gordon had mentioned to me that he really wanted to see.) He also got to witness the maintenance technicians moving a plane out of the hanger back to the flight line.
After an extremely well guided tour of the hanger and airplanes, TSgt Bates took over and took Gordon and his family for a tour of the Metal Tech Shop. This was where another special surprise awaited Gordon. My son had an empty A-10 bullet casing. He wanted to give that to Gordon to show his appreciation for Gordon’s sacrifices. My son had the bullet casing engraved with Gordon’s name and retired rank and presented it to him at that time. I think this meant a lot to Gordon, as he mentioned to me before the tour he was really interested in seeing one. He said he wondered how it would compare to the rounds that were shot from the 20 mm anti-aircraft guns on ships on which he served during WWII. Then, my husband who had joined us in the hanger and for many years had been the Maintenance Group Commander there, presented Gordon with a book that he thought Gordon would enjoy about the Civil War. We shared some special moments with these presentations before the tour moved on.
TSgt Bates showed Gordon and his family how they use the computer programs to create parts to repair the A-10s. He showed them some very intricate samples of what they can achieve in the welding and machining shop. Then, he took the family on a tour through the shop and they met some of the people who work in that area.
After about 2 ½ hours, we completed the tour and Gordon seemed very happy with his afternoon. He and the family mentioned many times this was so much more than they anticipated. Actually, the guardsmen made it so much more than I anticipated as well.
Before leaving the base, Gordon’s daughter-in-law was asking about a helicopter that was on display somewhere on the base. Gordon’s granddaughter is married to a man who’s father died in an Idaho Army National Guard Helicopter. I took them to where I thought the display might be, and sure enough we found the replica of the MediVac helicopter with the father’s name painted on the side. It was a very moving moment for them.
As we left the base and I was riding in the back seat with Gordon’s daughter-in-law, she reiterated to me her appreciation. She said it had been a very long time since Gordon had been out of the house and that this had been really special. We agreed to share photos and I told her that I would get her the information about the Veteran’s History Project, which documents Veteran service in the National Archives.
It was a special day for so many reasons….enriching friendships and showing an honored veteran and gentleman a rewarding time.
Gordon’s daughter-in-law called me this week to get addresses for thank you notes to the Air National Guard personnel. She told me the tour meant so much to Gordon that they are making him a memory book with pictures for his Christmas present.
I recently called to check on Gordon and schedule a monthly visit. He couldn’t stop talking about that day. He said he was personally writing thank you notes to all involved. He told me, “That was one of the best afternoons of my life.” I am so thankful to be a Heart ‘n Home Volunteer and meet wonderful people like Gordon. It is so fulfilling and rewarding and enriches my life.Apply to be a Volunteer today! Click here!