Powerful stories mark veterans event
Three impressive speakers were featured at the VFW Veterans Day "Tribute to our Veterans" event Nov. 11, at the Erickson Aircraft Collection in Madras.
Susan McKellar Forester, who now lives in Eugene, told her story of becoming a British flight attendant for Pan American after the airline came to London. She was readily accepted after they learned she had a degree as a registered nurse, and she was trained in Miami, Florida.
She was told she'd get to see the world aboard 747s, flying to places like Germany, Tokyo, "and, oh by the way, we will be flying into Vietnam."
During the Vietnam War, McKellar Forester made over 100 flights in and out of Vietnam, mostly to Saigon. "The turnarounds were swift, due to the possibility of attack," she said.
Pan Am had joined with the armed forces and assigned 12 percent of its fleet to haul cargo, troops and soldiers going on R&R. The flight attendants were designated as second lieutenants, in case of attack. Flight crews worked 14-18 hour days, and takeoffs were white-knuckle events until they were safely in the air, she said.
The next speaker, Central Oregon veteran David Jones, spent 2001-2009 in the Coast Guard, yet struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide when comparing himself with soldiers who had been deployed overseas.
Veterans can feel isolated, separate and apart after returning to civilian society because of "exceptionalism," where the public puts them on a pedestal they can't live up to, he explained.
Jones feels the answer is "servant leadership" by older veterans. "They are the ones that can reach out to us. They've reintegrated into civilian life and can lead us and help us. I was suicidal and nearly killed myself because I always felt 'less than' … I wasn't deployed, and I felt I wasn't worth it," he said.
Connecting with other soldiers is what helped him heal, and he is a member of Band of Brothers and Save a Warrior.
He suggested, instead of saying, "Thank you for your service," people ask vets "Did you serve? How are you doing? Is there anything I can do for you?"
Jones is now a loan officer with Northwest Home loans in Bend, specializing in home loans for veterans.
Speaker Cheryl Bennett is the mother of Tyrone Woods, the Navy SEAL who died while helping save 30 lives during the 2012 attack on U.S. government facilities in Benghazi, Libya. She has property here and said she was in Madras when she learned of her son's death.
"My son was a 20-year veteran but was a CIA contractor when he perished. What he did was right, and he's an American hero," Bennett said.
Yet, there are some in our society who disregard what veterans did and don't observe Veterans Day, she observed.
She urged veterans to share their personal stories and histories. "It's important to share those experiences to educate younger people on how they safeguarded our ideals and why parades and programs are important," she said.
Quoting President Abraham Lincoln, who said, "Care for him who bore the battle and his widow left behind," Bennett said Americans must "ensure our veterans are cared for" by making sure the Veterans Affairs Department provides funding for housing, resolves the health care process so vets have convenient care close by, and makes sure vets have legal, rehabilitation and mental health resources.