Oceanside CA— On Wednesday afternoon, approximately sixty residents at Brookdale Senior Living Solutions gathered to celebrate Veterans Day and honor their Veteran residents.
The event was supported by volunteers from Volunteer Action for Aging part of Independence at Home and included refreshments, a sing-a-long accompanied by volunteer award-winning pianist, Chris Bezold and concluded with residents writing thank you letters to honor the veteran residents who live there. The notes of gratitude will be posted to the community bulletin board for all to see.
Gary Salas was reminiscing with friends, at the table in the Brookdale dining hall, about his service in Vietnam. “We almost didn’t make it to Vietnam. On the way over, our jet was hijacked by the Russians after we flew over islands in the disputed Sakhalin region. We were forced to land and were there for three days before President Johnson intervened. The funniest thing I saw in Russia was when we caught one of the Russian guards looking at a Playboy magazine and staring at the centerfold.”
When Gary got to Vietnam, he was a truck driver in logistics. “The average age of the men I served with was 18, some were seventeen, bulging with muscles. It was continuous learning. We were learning real fast how to stay alive. The war took a toll on our bodies. We were exposed to Agent Orange and that took out a lot of us.” continued Gary, “I feel really bad for all the homeless veterans. I wish I could take them in. It’s sad what’s happening.” Gary has seven brothers who are veterans and a son who served in Iraq.
Wilma Clarke served in the Air Force during the early 1950’s. She decoded military documents while stationed in New Mexico at a time when there were very few woman in the service and even fewer black woman. “I joined the service after President Truman desegregated the military. Woodrow Wilson segregated the military and the Air Force was the first one to really move on desegregation, that is one reason I picked the Air Force.” continued Wilma. “I had the choice. Back then they had different tests for the military branches. I qualified and went in. That’s history there.”
Wilma served four years in the Air Force and went on to serve 33 years as a civil servant with the Postal Service on the east coast. “Well you know how families begin to delete themselves. Family members dying off and the weather was beginning to get to me.. My daughter called and asked me when I was going to retire. I told her I have 33 years I’m going to go for retirement after 35 years. My daughter said, No you’re not. She was very serious and next thing I knew, she flew out to the east coast, brought me to the retirement office to fill out the paperwork and now, here I am in Oceanside.” Wilma is originally from Panama and has three children.
The Veterans Day event was a small break for Army veteran Robert Albert. It was a chance to take his mind off the recent loss of his wife of 65 years, Paula. “I cry every night. They tell me it’s good to get it out so that’s what I do. When I see the bed next to me and it’s empty, I just start crying again. I don’t know how I’m going to live without her.”
The flow of tears began to subside as Robert began to speak of his service in the Army. “I joined the Army during World War II and served in Korea and Japan. The Army told me I would be good in the Medical Corps. I told them I didn’t want to be in the Medical Corps and so they told me YOU ARE a medic. So that’s what I did.”
The Army sent Robert to nursing school. “When I got out, they sent me to Korea. I would go out in the field and help the men who were shot or wounded. I couldn’t do much. I was just a medic, not a certified doctor. I would help them and get them back to the field hospitals.” Robert was sent to Korea 1942 and served several years there until Japan surrendered. “They shipped me to Japan, after the surrender, to work in the hospitals. I gave shots and took care of the men. I did that for most of my life in the Army.”
When Robert got out of the Army he went to work at Saks Fifth Avenue. “It was quite a transition from medic to Saks Fifth Avenue but I met my wife there in 1950 and we got married. Robert was transferred from Philadelphia to Los Angeles and worked as district manger in Southern California until they transferred him, again, to Tuscon, Arizona. “We hated it there. It was just awful. Paula said, I want to move back to San Diego so after 28 years, I retired. We absolutely love it here.”
Theresa Powell is the Volunteer Coordinator for Volunteer Action for Aging. The Veterans Day program is one of many the group has around Southern California. “The programs help get people out of their rooms, socialize, interacting and doing meaningful activities.” continued Theresa “The Veterans Day program was to show how grateful we are to those who served and enabled us to have our freedom.”
Volunteer Action for Aging has music and craft programs along with give-back programs that help seniors feel fulfilled. To learn more about the programs, visit their website; IndependenceAtHome.org
Below are some of the Veterans at Brookdale.
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