Master Sgt. Eric Wentworth, 446th Civil Engineer Squadron, talks with Mr. Elbert “Al” Senyohl, from the Washington Soldiers Home, while at the Puyallup Fair. (U.S. Air Force photo by Bud McKay)
Twenty one McChord Airmen helped escort 27 residents of the Washington Soldiers Home in Orting at the Puyallup Fair Thursday. According to Ileen Gallagher, a director at the home, McChord has been the exclusive chaperones for the residents at the fair for more than 35 years.
“We couldn’t bring the residents to the Puyallup Fair without the help from McChord,” Ms. Gallagher said. “This is one of the highlights of the year for our residents. When they see (the Airmen) in their full dress blue uniforms with all the ribbons, they get very excited.”
The residents enjoying the day at the state’s largest fair ranged from 50 to 95 years old. All but one of the residents had to use wheelchairs to get around, and McChord Airmen made sure the veterans were able to see anything they wanted to see.
Once residents arrived at the fair, Airmen greeted them as they came off the bus. One of the first people off the bus was Mr. Ken Masters. He was matched with Staff Sgt. John Havens, 62nd Medical Squadron. The two found out quickly they had more in common other than both serving in the military — they were both from Michigan.
“What do you want to see first?” Sergeant Havens said.
“The exhibits,” Mr. Masters said. And the two Michigan men were off.
The Airmen and residents all headed in different directions. Some residents had plans on what they wanted to see. Others just pointed when they saw something they liked. Some were happy to have the Airmen lead the way.
“We walked all over the fair,” said Staff Sgt. Rachell Martinez, 62nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, who was helping a former Coast Guard Reserve member. “We looked through displays of paintings, drawings and spent a lot of time looking at the woodworking exhibits. ”
The Washington Soldiers Home opened in 1891 and has a residential capacity of 183. It provides long-term health care for honorably discharged veterans — and in some instances, their spouses who are disabled and indigent.
The Airmen each had reasons why they wanted to help. Most just felt it was a way of giving back to the veterans for their sacrifices from World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
“When I first read about this opportunity, I jumped at it,” said Tech. Sgt. Joseph Nicosia, 62nd LRS. “I thought it was just a great chance to spend part of a day with veterans who gave so much for their country. It seemed the least I could do.”
But Sergeant Nicosia isn’t letting his friendship with his guest end at the fair.
“I took photos of us together on my cell phone and sent the pictures to my wife,” he said. “I knew this would be a rewarding experience, but I didn’t expect it to be so much fun. My wife and I are going to visit them at the soldiers home in a couple of weeks.”