By Ellen Hatfield, 349th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
/ Published December 12, 2014
TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Giving to someone every day of your life is as close to perfection as a human soul can get.
Thanksgiving is a highly overrated holiday. A happy band of volunteers from the 349th Air Mobility Wing have spent the last 10 years giving it renewed meaning, by giving back to our beloved veterans.
Escaping the flurry of cooking and cleaning, the Macy's Parade and football, they travel to the California Veterans Home, Yountville, to serve and share Thanksgiving dinner with our veteran heroes, who paved the way.
This year's wing coordinator, Senior Master Sgt. Chris Kerr, 312th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, managed to bring everything together smoothly, despite his busy flying schedule that kept him away several weeks prior to the event. SMSgt. Patrick Tiaffay was instrumental in assisting with gathering volunteers. Looking around the dining room with a smile, Kerr said, "I can't thank everyone enough, this is great. This is a team effort."
Stanley Davis, Travis Golden Bear, Honorary Commanders alumni and Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee member, provided his usual support, helping with volunteer assignments, and donating a check for $1,000 to the Home, on behalf of the wing. "I can't think of anything better to do with my time and money than support these wonderful veterans," he said. "I love them, I love Travis, and I love time spent with them, hearing their remarkable stories."
A noticeable void this year was the absense of Chief Master Sgt. Neal Ivey. We lost the chief in a motorcycle accident last year, and the first anniversary is Dec. 16. He always had the family in tow, and after dinner was over, he had an activity planned for them all. They had their Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday after the holiday, daughter Melanie told me. Faithful to her father's love and memory, Melanie, a senior airman with the 349th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, and her partner SrA Steven Bunnell, 60th Maintenance Squadron, carried on the family tradition this year, as mom was deep in preparations for Melanie's sister's wedding on Saturday. I could feel Chief's spirit surrounding us, and I swear I heard him laughing.
This writer has been covering Operation Give Thanks for six of the 10 years, and I can say, I hear new stories each visit, I meet new people to hug, who fill my heart to bursting, and I'm always gratified, and thankful, to see familiar faces, considering their age and frailty.
This is my new story for 2014: Mr. Houla (sp) and Frank were both born in 1919, joined the U.S. Navy, and worked together at one of the California naval stations, through the war years, and beyond. Yet, they never met until they moved into the Home in Yountville. Fast friends, Mr. H is a snappy dresser, with vintage sport coats, hats and ties. Frank has an angelic smile, and his eyes sparkled when he proudly told me "I passed my driving test so I can still drive. But I have to watch out for the other people on the road."
To all of you, who gave up holiday time with family and friends to spend the day at the Home, you have given the gift that never stops giving, to those willing to sacrifice all, for us, our country, and freedom for others around the world.