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 April 24, 2015

“Edwards Got Talent” contest April 24 Edwards Family Advocacy will hold an “Edwards Got Talent” competition at the Oasis Community Center April 24. The show starts at 5:30 p.m. and will end at 7:30 p.m. Anyone with access to Edwards AFB and their family members are invited to come and show off their talent! The...
 
 
Courtesy photograph by Liz Jacobson

Ten seconds later and that picture still exists

Courtesy photograph by Liz Jacobson Teenagers may feel a false sense of anonymity and security when using Internet apps, which can lead to an increasing number of teenagers sending inappropriate content. Irresponsible sharing o...
 
 
NASA photograph by Ken Ulbrich

Second X-56A MUTT makes first flight

NASA photograph by Ken Ulbrich NASA researchers are using the X-56A, a low-cost, modular, remotely piloted aerial vehicle, to explore the behavior of lightweight, flexible aircraft structures. Researchers at NASA’s Armstrong ...
 

 
afaf

AFAF campaign extended

Air Force photograph by Rebecca Amber The Edwards Air Force Base 2015 Air Force Assistance Fund Campaign has been extended an additional two weeks to May 15. If you would like to donate, contact your Unit Project Officer. For q...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Samuel King Jr.

An Edwards NCO’s journey to wounded warrior mentorship

Air Force photograph by Samuel King Jr. Tech. Sgt. Ryan Delaney, an Air Force Wounded Warrior mentor, watches Tremayne Maxwell, an Air Force Wounded Warrior athlete, perfect his wheelchair basketball rolling skills during the f...
 
 
Air Force photograph by Jet Fabara

F-22 test squadron recognizes decorated squadron member, Vietnam hero

Air Force photograph by Jet Fabara William Freckleton, 412th Range Squadron lead F-22 range control officer, poses before his F-16D incentive flight April 21. Freckleton is the only decorated Vietnam veteran at the 411th Flight...
 




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>