Every day we lose 1,000 of them -- some to old age, others to sickness and many who never got to visit the World War II memorial that was built in their honor. However, as these veterans and service men and women from other wars are especially honored throughout November, the Corinth Red Stars 4-H club has made sure one more is given the opportunity.
After raising funds through a food stand at the Humboldt County Fair, the Red Stars decided to donate $600 to sponsor a veteran through the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping American veterans travel free of charge to see their memorial in Washington, D.C. Only later did they realize that the father of one of their leaders also would be signed up for a future flight.
“I didn’t know my father was going on an honor flight when the girls started the project. It happened after the plans were already set in motion,” said leader Jana Terwilliger, whose father served stateside during World War II as a driver for high-ranking officials in Washington, D.C. “I cannot even tell you how excited he is, though, to see all the things that have changed or developed since he was there. It will be a really emotional day.”
In addition to the Honor Flight Network, the club has been able to experience first-hand what a current military family goes through, as one of their leaders and two of their members awaited the return of their husband and father this past year. Leader Lauri Beilke’s husband, Larry, left in June 2008, served as a helicopter mechanic in Iraq for a year and returned in May 2009. During his absence, Lauri Beilke and her daughters witnessed the support of the club who came over in the summer of 2008 to put together a T-shirt quilt for him and also sent care packages throughout the year.
“The girls were really excited to send things to Larry, and he’d send back updates,” said Lauri Beilke. “Even when my husband was gone though, I was so amazed we got as many thank yous as we did for his service. I mean, we missed him, but he missed everything. We really have a strong supportive community.”
Her daughters Kiersten and Shelby Beilke also saw how his service impacted their fellow club members, and through their involvement in Operation: Military Kids (OMK) during the Iowa 4-H Youth Conference, they realized the importance of the overwhelming support they have received.
“After seeing what my sister, mom and I were going through, it touched all of their hearts and as much as ours,” said Kiersten. “In OMK we also met new people and learned about their situations. It made us realize our school was very supportive. Other kids were told to ‘get over it’ and ‘move on’. Our community, however, was always asking how we were and what they could do.”
Furthermore, the club has continued to extend their time and hands in service to pay another act forward. While in Iraq, a group from Florida sent homemade stockings to troops overseas, including Larry Beilke, who then sent the empty stockings home. Without hesitation the girls agreed to refill them with things like snacks, chocolate, magazines, sunscreen, lip balm and quality toilet paper before sending the stockings over again for this year’s holidays.
“They are a really wonderful bunch of girls who provide so many community services,” said Terwilliger. “They’re so unique, get along really well and are always willing to help out. We have almost 100 percent participation in our service projects, and we have a lot of them.”
In the past the girls have served food at Relay For Life, helped set up the Christmas tree at a local nursing home, made ornaments with the residents there and helped kids wrap presents as part of the “Shop With A Cop” program, among other things.
Additionally, their third leader, Teresa Bleich, found a way for them to emotionally support the Honor Flight veterans by writing letters for them to read on the way to Washington, D.C. Bleich hopes it will spark conversation both among veterans and their families and for the girls.
“The girls grew a lot through this, and it will be neat to see the May flight take off. We also hope that someone will maybe come back and talk to us in person about their experience because that will mean a lot to the girls,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how the trip opens up veterans to talk and discuss, and it’s so neat to hear them.”
“Even Daryl [Long] coming and talking when we presented the check to our local Brushy Creek Chapter was really eye opening for the girls,” added Lauri Beilke. “World War II was something many never said a word about or were thanked or appreciated for. I think that was shocking to the girls and made them understand how important the Honor Flight would be to the veterans.”
While the club does not know whose flight in May they specifically funded, they are assured that one more veteran will have the chance to experience what more than 42,000 others have since the Honor Flight Network’s inception in 2005. World War II veterans are given first priority for the flights, but Vietnam and Korean veterans are also included to see their respective memorials.
Regardless of who gets to go, however, the Red Stars are excited to give someone the opportunity and have a whole new level of understanding and awareness for service men and women, as they continue to reach out to their own community one community service project at a time.