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Schriever AFSA chapter visits Colo. veterans home

FLORENCE, Colo. -- Tech. Sgt. Dennis Gray listens as a World War II veteran recounts his experiences during an Air Force Sergeants Association visit to the Colorado State and Veterans Home here Sept. 21. Sergeant Gray, a member of the 17th Test Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., presented the veteran with a unit coin in gratitude for his service to the nation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)

FLORENCE, Colo. -- Tech. Sgt. Dennis Gray listens as a World War II veteran recounts his experiences during an Air Force Sergeants Association visit to the Colorado State and Veterans Home here Sept. 21. Sergeant Gray, a member of the 17th Test Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., presented the veteran with a unit coin in gratitude for his service to the nation. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Don Branum)

FLORENCE, Colo. -- The Schriever Air Force Base, Colo., chapter of the Air Force Sergeants Association honored Colorado veterans Friday with a visit to the Colorado State and Veterans Nursing Home here. 

Schriever AFSA members came away from the visit with a greater appreciation of veterans' contributions to today's military, said Master Sgt. Matthew Lusson, a member of the 17th Test Squadron here and one of 10 AFSA Chapter 1182 members who made the 60-mile drive from Schriever AFB. 

The veterans home in Florence was built in 1976. It has approximately 40 beds for disabled veterans and occupies 60 acres of land outside Florence, which is about 20 miles west of Pueblo. 

Inside the home's common room, AFSA members sat at tables and on couches next to veterans who had served as far back as World War II and shared their perspectives in a room filled with a large-screen television, a kitchen area, a fish tank and a six-foot-tall bird habitat. 

In the front of the room, 2nd Lt. Jonathan Lee, 50th Logistics Readiness Flight, helped one of the residents tune a piano. Once they finished, she sat down and played several melodies, the first of which was the Air Force Song. 

In the corner of the room with the fish tank, Senior Airmen Nina Brehe from the 17th Test Squadron and Airman 1st Class Antonishia Lancaster from the 302nd Airlift Wing at Peterson Air Force Base listened to Elizabeth Rupp's military experience. 

"We had to qualify (on our weapons) every three months--and I mean qualify!" Ms. Rupp said to the young women. "I did not like shooting guns, but since I had to do it, I did it. I think the day I turned my gun in, I was so glad. I said, 'You can have it!'" 

Ms. Rupp, a native of Pueblo, Colo., was one of 12 women serving in a region that stretched from San Diego to Portland, Ore. 

"My brother and I went in together," she said. "We just wanted to get away from home." 

When Ms. Rupp served, the nation and the military had a different mindset. 

"When those kids were out there (in Europe and the Pacific Ocean), they weren't playing tiddlywinks. They were doing real stuff," she said. 

It was also a military that had a different idea of women's roles, which were limited in contrast to the positions available for women in today's military. 

"We knew what we wanted to do, but the military didn't know what to do with us," she said. "It was different for women ... there was always one extra little bit we had to do for men to accept us." 

The World War II veteran vividly remembered the celebration in the streets on Victory over Japan Day, Aug. 15, 1945. 

"Market Street was 'wooo!'" she said. "We couldn't go out with our caps or our purses--people were stealing them." 

After World War II, the military began to draw down and decommissioned many of its officers. Ms. Rupp chose to get out. 

"If my brother hadn't been killed in war ... I would have stayed in," she said. 

Airman Lancaster nodded sympathetically. "It would be too hard staying in," she agreed. 

After Ms. Rupp left the military, she worked with U.S. Customs for 37 years. 

"I might as well have been in the military," she said. "What I did not like was going on the ships--no, thank you." 

Ms. Rupp asked the Airmen why they joined. 

"I just came from Beale AFB," Airman Brehe said. "I'm an Army brat--my whole family is military. I wanted to get away from home." 

Nearby, Tech. Sgt. Dennis Gray, 17th TS, clandestinely offered another veteran a gift: a unit coin. 

"Don't tell anyone I gave it to you until I get home," Sergeant Gray whispered as he explained the "coining" custom. "If I'm caught without it, I have to buy a round of drinks." 

Jim Barrows, the facility's manager, walked the AFSA members around the premises as the visit wrapped up. As the group toured the home's rooms and hallways, Sergeant Lusson and Senior Master Sgt. Brent Braun conversed about their impressions of the visit. 

"There's a lot of history in these hallways," Sergeant Lusson said.

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