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, Ill., 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.


 
 

 
U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika

Nellis readies for Red Flag 15-2

U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Siuta B. Ika An F-16 Fighting Falcon assigned to the 555th Fighter Squadron, Aviano Air Base, Italy, approaches the runway for landing during Red Flag 15-1 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., Feb....
 
 

Nellis to host AF wounded warrior trials

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. — U.S. Air Force, U.S. Army, British and Australian wounded warriors will convene here Feb. 27 through March 5 for the 2015 Air Force Trials. The trials are an adaptive sports event designed to promote the mental and physical well-being of seriously ill and injured military members and veterans. Nellis...
 
 

Just American: A century of Black life

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFNS) — 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....
 

 

Don’t underestimate importance of sacrifices

MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — As I was reviewing some enlisted performance reports and decorations, I started contemplating a huge event in my life that occurred almost 20 years ago. In April 1995, I asked my then girlfriend Tiffani, a fellow Airman at the time, to be my wife, for better or worse. We...
 
 
awards

2014 NTTR Annual Awards Breakfast

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Mikaley Towle (From left to right) Staff Sgts. Jeffrey Golson and Kerri Rude, Master Sgt. James Rouse, and Cheryl Daniels pose for a group photo during the Nevada Test and Training Range 2014 ...
 
 
Courtesy photo

Nellis hero recognized in Portraits in Courage

Courtesy photo Tech. Sgt. Patrick McGillivray, 99th Civil Engineer Squadron explosive ordnance disposal technician, poses for a photo while deployed in the Wardak Province, Afghanistan. McGillivray was recognized in the ninth v...
 




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>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin