Members of the Air Force Sergeants Association aren’t quite sure what to say about visiting veteran’s homes — is it an honor, aprivilege or just a fun time of fellowship and hearing incredible, intimate stories of life “back in the day?”
For MSgt. Jeremy Keely, it is all of the above.
Keely is an AFSA Veteran’s Affairs chairman and has been coming to the veteran’s home for about a year. “It’s a lot of fun, except when Ken decides to cheat,” he says while giving resident, Ken Fowler, a nudge.
Keely works as a flight chief in Public Health at Edwards AFB and started playing cards when he was working as an aircraft mechanic at RAF Lakenheath, England.
“When the jets were up in the air, we would pull out a deck of cards. It’s something everyone can do and it is a great way to get to know people.” Coming from five generations of veterans, Keely said he feels right at home at the veteran’s home and he and his wife, Laura, look forward in hanging with the residents.
The Air Force Sergeants Association is a non-profit organization representing the professional and personal interests of nearly 111,000 veterans.
“We really do appreciate everything they do for us,” said Fowler. “We enjoy their visits and look forward to them coming out.”
MSgt. Valarie Bartonek, an Aviation Resource Manager on the Global Hawk program serving at Edwards, said everyone has something in common and she felt welcomed the moment she walked into the home.
“This is my first time coming here, but I will definitely be back,” she says while playing cards after the barbecue lunch.
Resident, Eddie “Baby face” Lopez, 87, invited Bartonek to his room to share a bit about his story.
At age 15 Lopez, a resident of Hollister Calif., longed for a better life. “My parents were not ready to be parents, we were raised by my aunts and uncles.” The only hope Lopez felt was to join the armed services — but he was too young.
“I felt bad about lying, but I had to in order to join the Army,” explains Lopez.
After 11 months they found out his age and threatened court martial or worse. He received an honorable-minority (under age) discharge and turned around and joined the Air Force when he was 18. “It all turned out for the best, because that is what I really wanted, to be in the Air Force.” He served as an aircraft mechanic.
He proudly shows his collection of autographed photographs from members of the Blue Angles and Thunderbirds.
“I’m sad to say, but I think one of the pilots that visited me was recently killed.”
His stories are colorful, intimate and he prefers not to share them with the general public, but when young veterans come around — they are all family and his stories are endless.