Commentary

July 11, 2014

Meeting veteran helped me feel connection with grandfather

Tags:
Senior Airman Sarah Hall-Kirchner
375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Dale VanBlair, World War II veteran, addresses the crowd that honored him for his 93rd birthday in Belleville, Illinois, June 17. VanBlair thanked everyone for coming to his birthday party and told them that it felt amazing to be appreciated.

SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill.†-†Twenty-five B-24 Liberators were lost during his last mission during World War II. His airplane had been among those that went down. He and his crew had to ditch the plane over the North Sea. Luckily, he had been rescued from the waters by an English Air-Sea Rescue ship.

Dale VanBlair sat and told me about his experiences during World War II and beyond in a busy restaurant on his 93rd birthday.

Children brought him birthday cards and a seemingly endless stream of service members and civilians walked up to thank him for his service.

“It feels good to know the town would take the time to do this for me,” VanBlair said, of the birthday cards that people brought him and the birthday party thrown for him. “It feels good to be appreciated.”

Over and over again I heard people tell him how grateful they were for his service, for his generation’s service–and I couldn’t have agreed more.

My grandfather served during World War II in the same aircraft as VanBlair, the B-24. My grandfather, like VanBlair, had been a tailgunner. My grandfather had also been shot down while fighting the axis powers during the war.

Unlike VanBlair, my grandfather was not rescued until after the war was over. He was held in a German prisoner-of-war camp for 18 months and was taken on a death march as the war ended.
Listening to VanBlair recount his stories made me feel as if I was speaking to my grandfather, who died when my father was young. I could not think of the words to tell VanBlair how overwhelmed and appreciative I was to be able to speak to him.

I soaked up every bit of what VanBlair, a pillar in the community of Belleville, had to say.

He told me about his favorite military memories. First he joked that his favorite memory was getting out, but then he got serious and said that he truly enjoyed the camaraderie and the family he found in his fellow crew members.

“I enjoyed the fellowship I had with my crew,” he said, “and I liked flying, except when they shot at us.”

VanBlair had a sense of humor through the entire conversation. He joked about his service, and also about his entire life.

He also had a serious side, as he explained to me how hard it was for him when he transitioned from being a “G.I.” to being a civilian.

“I grew up during the great depression, so I sought a teaching degree and then taught for 33 years,” he said. “I wanted job security, and I knew I’d always have a job.”

VanBlair taught English at Belleville West High School for the last 17 years of his teaching career, and he’s lived in the Belleville area since 1956.

While we discussed his life after the war, VanBlair told me about his wife of 53 years, Mary, who died in 2002.

“I still miss her every single day,” he said, with tears in his eyes, wedding band gleaming from his left ring finger.

Speaking in a muted tone he told me about his favorite memories of Mary, of which he had many, but his favorite was when they were discussing the possibility of taking a vacation.

“I thought we could bring friends along for the trip,” he said, “but she looked at me and said, ‘We don’t need friends, I like being with you.”

As the conversation wore on, I realized how lucky I was to be able to speak to a World War II veteran. He lived through one of the worst wars the world has ever seen, which saw high casualties.

It’s been 69 years since Victory in Europe day, when the war ended on the European front. VanBlair is still willing to share his stories with anyone who inquires. He was kind, and explained things to me that I did not understand.

Wrapping up our conversation, I walked VanBlair to his car. He thanked me for talking to him and emotions overwhelmed me. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thanked him for his courageous service and for sharing his memories with me.

As he left, all I could think about was my grandfather, who I never had the opportunity to ask questions of. I count myself lucky because I got to speak with a true American hero on his 93rd birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Dale!




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

News Briefs February 27, 2015

Library closure The Base Library will be closing early Feb. 28 for an official function. Hours of operation will be 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. For more information, call 661-275-2665. Blood drive The next American Red Cross Blood Drive on Edwards AFB is 10 a.m.-4 p.m., March 4 in the Chapel 1 Annex. Both...
 
 

Just American: A century of Black life

Black History Month, or National African American History Month, is an annual celebration of achievements by black Americans and a time for recognizing the central role of African Americans in U.S. history. The event grew out of “Negro History Week,” the brainchild of noted Harvard-trained historian Carter Woodson. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially...
 
 

Leadership development program nominations due March 16

Nomination packages for majors and major-selects interested in the Defense Department 2015-2016 Executive Leadership Development Program are due to the Air Force Personnel Center by March 16, officials announced. The program, designed specifically for highly motivated officers who have demonstrated outstanding leadership ability, commitment to public service and integrity, and who have an inter...
 

 
Air Force photograph by Bobbi Zapka

C-12 pilots take to skies at Edwards

Air Force photograph by Bobbi Zapka Edwards AFB is home to the U.S. Air Force C-12 school house. Referred to as a split school house, when an individual is assigned to fly an Air Force C-12 Huron, they spend three weeks in Alab...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Jim Varhegyi

AF senior leaders caution against sequestration

Air Force photograph by Jim Varhegyi Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III answers a question about the fiscal year 2016 President’s Budget request during a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on D...
 
 

Soldier, retirees win big with Exchange’s ‘Your Holiday Bill Is On Us’ contest

The Army & Air Force Exchange Service made dreams come true for three grand-prize winners of the MILITARY STAR® “Your Holiday Bill Is On Us” sweepstakes—and for one young Soldier from Fort Bliss, winning has changed her life. As a grand-prize winner, Sgt. Kakala Loketi had her MILITARY STAR® account paid in full. During a...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>