VFW unites Brookdale veterans | RecordCourier.com

VFW unites Brookdale veterans

by Sarah Hauck
James Mefford, 94, shows off his awards and medals from him time of service in the U.S. Air Force. He saw combat in Italy in WW II and flew in the Berlin Airlift.
Sarah Hauck |

Many were once soaked to the bone, on the verge of frostbite, while others tried to maneuver enemy airspace in conflicts that span half a century of our country’s history.

One day a month, these men figuratively lace up their mud-caked issue combat-boots and share stories at Brookdale Senior Living thanks to Veterans of Foreign Wars.

“My father was in the Army Air Corps and was a pilot during World War II,” VFW member Tom Stevens, 69, said. “I love being with these guys because they made a commitment to this country to serve and protect it, not for a set amount of time, but until the conflict ended. That kind of dedication in the face of what these guys has seen is something I could never imagine.”

Each month about 15 veterans living at Brookdale meet and swap war stories over coffee and donuts thanks to the VFW.

For many of the veterans, the time they spend together allows them to share stories that other people can’t relate to.

“We get to tell each other stories that while we’ve heard them before, always end up changing somehow,” 91 year-old Kent Martinelli, Air Force, said. “We get to share those stories, not matter how muddy they are and we enjoy them every time.”

For two of the resident vets, the monthly meetings were a time to connect.

James Mefford, 94, and Desmond Machen, 92, both served in World War II in the Italian theater and later during the Berlin Airlift, but had no idea they were miles apart until more than 60 years later.

“I flew in the Berlin Airlift and had no idea that he did as well,” Mefford said pointing across the room to Machen. “It is always very educating hearing what everyone else has seen during their times of service. Especially to hear if we had any similarities.”

While the meetings are a time for sharing, comparisons of infrastructure, weapons and uniforms are common topics.

Veterans at Brookdale have fought at the Battle of Salerno, Battle of the Bulge and Korean War.

“My favorite gun and the best gun in my opinion is the 20 cal,” Larry Wynn, 91, said. “Although a 50 cal was fun because it could cut a house in half.”

“I remember one time our gunner couldn’t get the gun to fire so I climbed up to it and started firing,” Lionel Blankenship, 88, said. “I fired it so long that the gun started getting hot and the gunnermaid had to take it off and shove it in the water. The amount of steam that came off was huge.”

Heads nodded and snickers filled the room as each veteran, including the younger VFW veterans reminisced about their own experiences with guns and ammo and combat.

“These World War II guys are the greatest to be around,” Tom McManus, 69, said. “Being here each month is the least we can do for what they have done.”

VFW visits Brookdale at 9 a.m. the second Friday of the month as an outreach. For more information about the VFW call 781-0273.