Yesterday was Armed Forces Day. When I was a girl, our family spent that day at Pope Air Force Base participating in the celebration. My parents were very patriotic, part of that “Greatest Generation” with Daddy an army veteran and Mama a Civil Service Worker during WWII. Being on the grounds of the base had special significance; some of that land was in Moore County and acquired from my family, the Wrights– my paternal great grandparents.
There were amusements for the kids at the Pope festivities. The ride I loved was one that simulated a paratrooper’s jump. Mama must have loved seeing her girls participate in that one because she’d packed parachutes during the war. We heard her stories of living on base with the other women during those days when she was in her early twenties.
I remember climbing up what seemed like a tall wooden tower and being harnessed in by a man in uniform. I was scared of the jump yet excited knowing I was safely tethered. We didn’t have all the theme park options back then that we have these days, so those simple activities were something we remembered until the next military day.
I doubt I ever understood what we were celebrating. Now, I look at the internet to research the history. This portion of an article on Armed Forces Day is from Military.com:
“Among the many military holidays celebrated each year is Armed Forces Day, celebrated the third Saturday in May.
On Aug. 31, 1949, Defense Secretary Louis Johnson announced the creation of an Armed Forces Day to replace separate Army, Navy and Air Force Days. The single-day celebration stemmed from the unification of the armed forces under one agency — the Department of Defense.
In a speech announcing the creation of the day, President Truman “praised the work of the military services at home and across the seas.” He said, “It is vital to the security of the nation and to the establishment of a desirable peace.”
It’s been many years since our family drove to Fayetteville on that Saturday afternoon in May to participate in the celebration on base. This year I celebrated Armed Forces Day in a very different way; I did my first volunteer activity with Vets to Vets, a charity I support. I had a blog post in November around Veterans Day Saving Lives: Vets to Vets about this phenomenal program created by Durham-based veterinarian, Dr. Terry Morris. She took her love of veterans– especially her late father and her sister, and her love of animals– particularly dogs in shelters, and her education and training and created the program.
This is a brief description from their website:
Vets To Vets United, Inc. (Veterinarians to Veterans United) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization created to unite veterans and dogs for a common goal: improving and saving lives. By pairing veterans with dogs, we seek to:
- Significantly improve a veteran’s life by providing companionship and/or help with a mental or physical disability.
- Save the life of a dog facing euthanasia by adopting the animal from a local animal shelter.
I’d only spoken with Terry on the phone and through emails before yesterday. She invited me to join her and Laurie, a Vets to Vets volunteer, to work at their table at the Durham Blues and Brews Festival. What a great way to start my training to the sound of music I love!
I waited under trees in the scorching heat near the Supported Charities tent to meet Terry and Laurie. They were easy to spot coming down the sidewalk–Laurie with her hands full of containers and Terry pushing a loaded cart and holding the leash for the dog walking beside her.
“Hello, you have to be Terry!” I said, and walked over to her. “How can I help?”
“Hey, Connie. Thanks for coming,” she said, and turned to loosen her grip on the leash. “Here, you can take Willie.”
The two-and-a-half years old Doberman mix looked at me with his golden brown eyes. I hadn’t walked a dog since my Golden Retriever, Madison died in July 2017. Willie was very strong with a much more muscular build than Madison. We followed Terry to our table, and while she and Laurie set up the brochures and display items, I had charge of Willie.
Terry told me the basics of how to let visitors safely pet Willie–making sure he was either sitting or lying down, coaxing him with the treats he’d be given with a flat hand. Later, when I accidentally gave him a treat with my fingers, like I’m used to, I saw how sharp his teeth were, how easily he could nibble fingers instead of a flat palm!
Willie and I became fast friends. I walked him in the open space beside the tent, gave him water, and did my first spiel with festival participants–introducing Willie. Our table had the draw of an adorable dog who would one day be ready to be paired with a veteran; what an important role he would play. It felt so good to rub his fir and scratch him under the neck, grounding me in the way a dog has, especially a big dog, since I was a girl and felt the same way with our Collie mix.
We had a good number to visit our table. Some were veterans and shared a little about being in their particular branch of the military. There was a veterinarian and a vet technician who talked with Terry about the role of veterinary medicine in the program. I listened while Laurie spoke to our guests and gave me more of what I needed to know.
A few of the festival participants asked how I got involved with the program. I shared with them that I’m a retired nurse, and throughout my forty-four year career, I’d specialized in mental health. When I saw the alarming statistics on the number of veteran suicides, I decided to do something to help. The Vets to Vets program addressed that concern for our soldiers and the needs of dogs in shelters; it seemed like a perfect pairing.
Eventually, we each took a dinner break, strolling along the craft brewery tents and the food trucks up on the hill. Both the beer and food offerings were inviting. There was a variety of food trucks offering Maine Lobster, Jamaican dishes, and Japanese dumplings. I chose Jamican curried shrimp with side dishes of rice and peas along with fried plantains and paired it with a IPA from Charlotte’s Paradise Brewery. How tasty my meal while listening to one of the Blues groups, not sure which of the featured including Bill Toms and Hard Rain, The Harvey Dalton Arnold Band, and Eddie 9V.
I was glad for my new volunteer gig with Vets to Vets United; how special that it occurred on Armed Forces Day. Years after enjoying that day with my patriotic parents, who knew the sacrifice of service, I had found a place to serve veterans, carrying on my work to help prevent suicide. I believe in the inspired work of Dr. Terry Morris– who is always just “Terry.” She says it’s what God called her to do and she does it with great passion.
I hope others will join in this work, helping the veterans and the dogs to find a better life.
From the website for the festival:
The Durham Blues and Brews Festival is the main fund raising effort of the Exchange Club of Greater Durham, a service-oriented civic club. In 2015 we set out to create a unique music festival experience that served only NC craft beer with proceeds benefiting the Durham community.