Serving Our Country – with Honor

Community Life
dog carrying flag

Posted: May 15, 2018

I had only been in the Company at Cappella of Grand Junction for two months when I met this elderly war dog. His name was Radarman 3rd Class Ernie Brown and he was moving pretty well for his 91 years of life on this planet.

Petty Officer Brown served in the United States Navy during WWII in the South Pacific. We bonded immediately and shared our memories of things we experienced that were in common with each other. It was like we had known each other for years and had a naturally comfortable feel. (That is so common for those in this veteran’s community.)

He told me some funny stories about his time at sea and I shared about my time in the Seabees. We have a common thread in service – like him, I also served in the Navy for over 20 years and retired at the rank of Senior Chief Petty Officer, E-8. During my time in the Navy, I served in the Naval Construction Force as a Seabee, building everything from daycare facilities to rapid runways, helping with disaster recovery and providing national infrastructure repairs and water wells. I served in three Naval Construction Battalions and two Naval Construction Regiments, taught at the Naval Construction Training Center in Port Hueneme, CA and trained recruits at Recruit Training Command in the Great Lakes region.

During my time in the service, I deployed numerous times to places all over the world. Ernie felt that we needed to come up with protocol, so we immediately set to creating rules for incoming Veterans to our home at Cappella of Grand Junction. I jokingly told him I was unsure if we should let a few token Marines in, but the salty old Sailor seemed to want to include everyone. We don’t have any Marines here, but we do have a couple of Army and Air Force veterans. We’re glad to have them.

We decided we should do a once a month meeting with all of the Veterans and discuss things. The Executive Director in charge at Cappella of Grand Junction said we could have some money to take our brother’s in arms to chow as a veterans group, which was kind of strange to me coming from a civilian. We decided to venture out of the normal chow hall routine – so once a month we go to places like Golden Corral and Starvin’ Arvin’s to enjoy a meal and talk about our service related experiences. Our mostly sea stories – although true – are somewhat embellished to make them more colorful.

Petty Officer Brown wanted to get all of us involved in the military celebrations around town. So, our first event will be at the Memorial Day event here in town. Later we will do Veterans Day activities here at Cappella and out in town. Doing both in the same day is driven by the desires of the veterans group within this community.

Ernie had one other item he wanted to check off of his bucket list – to see the WWII Memorial in Washington DC. He wanted me to be his guide, as I have not been out there either. Ernie wants to go because he may never have another chance to pay his respects to his fallen brothers, and I feel the need to pay my respects to all who have gone before me as well. He wants to see the memorial that was built for those who were there during WWII. I want to see and share that with him. I also kind of selfishly want to see the Seabee Memorial that was built for my Naval Construction Community. We plan to bring back memorabilia for our veterans who cannot join us.

But my new shipmate had some concerns about his health, so we put the team to task. We have a Certified Fitness Trainer by the name of Misty Trout on board who developed a fitness regimen that is working to strengthen his legs. Misty’s team consists of herself, Sarah Winnefeld and Li Clark. Through their calm demeanor, constant smiles, encouragement and working with him every day, we’ve seen massive improvements that should result in him being strong enough to accomplish his mission to travel to the War Memorial.

Let’s not forget he also plays a big role in this training. He’s highly motivated and truly dedicated to his mission and is determined to see this thru. Currently, we do not have any sisters in arms residing in our community – but rest assured, they ARE our Sisters in Arms and will be warmly welcomed into the folds of our veteran family.

Stay tuned for follow-on Situations Reports on this adventure!

By Chuck Gregory, Building Operations Director for Cappella of Grand Junction

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