A Valentine's Day visit with heroes
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on February 15, 2012 1:46 PM
City Manager Scott Stevens, far right, and Assistant City Manager Tasha Logan listen along with City Council members to Neil Bartlett as he talks about changing the city recycling collection program during the Goldsboro City Council Retreat at the Paramount Theatre Tuesday. The two-day retreat brings council members and department heads together to discuss ideas on how to build a better future for the city.
Staff Sgt. James Ward Jr., left, and Andrea Sardina listen to World War II veteran Luther Johnson tell stories inside the Durham VA Medical Center. Dozens from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base traveled to the facility Tuesday to spend Valentine's Day with some of their heroes.
DURHAM -- For James Ward, it was more than just a simple exchange -- the conversation that carried on for the better part of an hour inside the Durham VA Medical Center.
It was a chance, the 25-year-old said, to connect with his late grandfather -- a person who, like his grandson, swore to fight for a cause greater than any one man.
"I never got to meet him," Ward said, looking back at Luther Johnson, the wheelchair-bound veteran telling stories from a war that liberated the world. "So being here, it's like a window into the past."
And it was a way, the Air Force staff sergeant added, to see World War II though the eyes of someone who lived it -- to get a sense of all his grandfather was up against in the months after he raised his right hand.
Some stood in the lobby with flowers and cards -- extending them to the men and women making their way to whichever healthcare provider had brought them there.
Others passed out candy on the elevators.
It was, after all, Valentine's Day.
But the dozens from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base who converged on the Durham facility Tuesday morning weren't looking for gratitude.
They were the ones offering thanks -- to the generations that fought for the flag long before their respective careers began.
So Airman 1st Class Thomas Walser did his best to soak it all in when 91-year-old World War II veteran Lawrence Wood started speaking.
And Senior Airman Chynarri Brooks characterized the experience as "pretty big."
Wood seemed to think so -- when he could finally wrap his mind around what was unfolding.
"This is certainly something you don't see too much," he said. "No. You don't see this every day."
Ward won't soon forget the time he spent with Johnson.
"It's great to come out and hear the stories," he said.
But the experience, at its core, was about something far more meaningful.
It was a chance to recognize -- to honor -- the people who ensured there is still a free nation left to defend.
"These guys are our heritage. There's no way around it," Ward said. "If it weren't for them, we wouldn't be able to serve."
But retired Navy Capt. John Dinger wasn't going to let the airmen go back to Goldsboro without a thank you.
They, too, are heroes, he said.
So as he made his way out of the patients' cafeteria with a valentine on his lap, he saluted those currently carrying out the duties he would still proudly take on ... if only he were able.
"God bless you -- each and every one of you," Dinger said. "God bless you all for what you're doing for us."