LANCASTER – Members of the Air Force Sergeants Association Chapter 1328 hosted a barbecue lunch last week at the Lancaster Veterans Home in honor of the 66th U.S. Air Force birthday. AFSA provided burgers, hotdogs and a birthday cake.
“I think the Air Force birthday is important because it’s a tradition that we uphold every year,” said Tech. Sgt. Kristen Davis, Air Force Test Center Judge Advocate office and lead person for the event. “To celebrate it with veterans who could have been there during the separation [from the Army Air Corps], or when we were born, then it’s kind of the old and the new and that’s what birthdays are really about.”
Lawrence Hawkins, supervising rehabilitation therapist at the home, said that AFSA has been sponsoring a number of events for the veterans, like the annual Super Bowl party and a trip to a Los Angeles Dodgers game. The residents are also invited to shop at the Exchange once a month.
“When I contacted Staff Sgt. Michael Burd (412th Communication Squadron) and asked if they would bring a cake he told me, ‘Cake? Are you kidding? We’ll come out and throw you guys a barbecue,'” said Hawkins. “We have a wonderful working relationship with the base; they are so supportive of us.”
AFSA has hosted an Air Force birthday celebration for the home since their opening four years ago. In previous years, the celebration was just a cake and flag ceremony. This year was the biggest one yet with cake, the barbecue and traditional Korean dancers.
Staff Sgt. Adam Shura, AFTC command chief executive, said that volunteering with veterans taught him respect.
He remarked that when he walks in the veterans will thank him for his service and he immediately responds by saying, “No, thank you for your service, because without you we wouldn’t be here.”
Shura grew up in a family with a long history of service. Learning from his grandfathers and seeing where they served gave him a greater sense of “drive and pride.” He has volunteered at the home on numerous occasions including decorating doors for Christmas. He brings his daughter along and she is excited to spend time with and talk to the residents. He commented that listening to their stories is his favorite part of their visits.
“I think it’s important because we’re losing that era and my children will never have the opportunity to meet the Greatest Generation. So to be able to bring them down here and give them that opportunity is something that they’ll never get another chance to do again,” said Shura.
Eugene Dimonaco, a resident at the home, served in the Air Force during the Korean War. “I was in the motor pool and we used to drive the pilots around San Francisco,” said Dimonaco. “I wish I would have stayed in longer, I was only in for 18 months. I got an honorable discharge but I still wish I’d stayed in longer.”
“It’s very important that [the enlisted men and women] care,” said Dimonaco while he waited for the barbecue to begin.
After lunch, Naval Air Corps veteran, Earl “Andy” Andrews, 92-years-old, cut the birthday cake surrounded by the AFSA volunteers.
“When the war started I went into navy training for two-and-a-half-years and got in the last months of the war,” said Andrews, “And I’ve flown just about everything.”
Andrews still flies today and says that living in the veteran’s home he is “spoiled” because “it’s like living in heaven.”
“I think it’s so important that the people who are currently serving our country see how we treat our vets,” said Hawkins. “It’s just a great interaction that our vets know that those currently serving care about them and its good for our current vets to see that they’re going to be well taken care of later on.”
Burd, who is the local AFSA vice president, said visiting the home feels like visiting “family.” He added that AFSA hosts various fundraisers throughout the year to fund events like this. One fundraiser in particular is a Wounded Warrior 5K, the proceeds help sponsor base events too, like A Day at the Park.
“We’re very comfortable here. We show up and they don’t treat us any differently, we’re all brothers and sisters in arms. It’s not as though we’re outsiders coming in, we’re family here visiting,” said Burd. “We have all ranks, retirees and even civilians who come from Edwards to volunteer. It really, truly is one team, one fight.”