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Posts Tagged ‘Central Missouri Honor Flight’

In 2012 our youngest son graduated from high school. He applied to only one college his senior year, and by God’s grace, he was accepted! The day that my Dad took his last breath on this earth, Blane got a call from the college, asking if he would be interested in coming down for the second session of the summer work program. They called him before Dad passed and so I said, “Of course!” without even a thought. God was so gracious to allow that call to come BEFORE my Dad passed away, otherwise, I am not sure I would have had the strength to tell this super excited young man yes.

Fast forward 2 years…this (soon to be) 21 year old son of ours calls again with incredible excitement in his voice. College of the Ozarks just announced that there would be a Patriotic Travel Trip to Vietnam this fall (2014). So Blane wrote an essay, which I will post for your reading pleasure. Out of the submitted essays, 12 students would be chosen to accompany 12 Vietnam Veterans to a 13 day trip to Vietnam. In this essay they were to include their reason for desiring to go on this trip. So, of course, Blane wrote about my Dad and Dad’s impact on his life.

Patriotic Travel Trip – Vietnam Essay

Blane R. Bias

     “Above all, Vietnam was a war that asked everything of a few and nothing of most in America…” (Myrna MacPherson, 1984). My interest in participating in the Patriotic Trip to Vietnam stems from my grandfather, Gary B Whitehead. He served as a Combat Medic with the 25th Infantry Division during the Tet Offensive in 1968. On August 4th, 1968, he was wounded when he and his men stepped on a booby trap. In the moments after landing back on the ground, he army crawled to the other wounded men, and bandaged them all up. By the time the helicopter arrived, my grandpa’s wounds were the only ones that had not been attended to. For this heroic deed, he received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. During my childhood, my grandpa instilled in both, my brother and I, a deep respect for the soldiers who fought for the United States, especially the soldiers that fought in Vietnam. My grandpa also taught me to have a huge sense of patriotism, duty and pride for America. I remember my grandpa sadly recounting how the soldiers were treated when they arrived back home from Vietnam. With glistening eyes he said that people spit on them and called them “baby killers”. This made me really sad to hear that people back then did not understand that they went there to die for their country. I want to go on this trip so that I can honor my grandpa’s memory.

     I would like to go on this trip so that I can see some of the places that my grandpa may have been and experience some of the places he told in his stories. If I am chosen to do on this trip I hope to gain a deeper understanding of the things that the soldiers went through over in Vietnam. Also I want to honor the service of the Vietnam Veterans who we will be accompanying and learn about some of the struggles that they have been through. I would be grateful for the privilege of honoring them by listening to their stories and sharing in this time with them.

     On June 12th 2012, my grandpa died after a 7 year battle with Lewy Body Dementia, a disease in which patients slowly lose both their cognitive skills and mental thought processes, along with their ability to communicate. Ironically, he died two hours after someone from College of the Ozarks called me to let me know that I have been given the second summer work session. By God’s grace, in 2010, my grandpa went with Central Missouri Honor Flight out of Columbia, Missouri to Washington D.C. to the World War II, Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. Grandpa went because he wanted to honor the men that did die in Vietnam, and to say he was sorry to the ones that he could not save. As I recount all of this, I am reminded of how much respect I have for my grandpa and for those that have fought for my freedom.

 

I can gratefully say that Blane was one of the students chosen to take this trip. They will leave September 25th and return October 8th, 2014. He will celebrate his 21st birthday in Vietnam (HOW COOL IS THAT??). We are so excited for what God will do in Blane’s life, the lives of all that are on the trip and those that they will encounter while they are gone. Blane is taking 18 hours this semester and has 15 hours per week to work. All of the students on this trip must have their class work done that they will miss BEFORE they leave, and he will have to make up the 30 work hours that he will miss while he is gone. We would appreciate your prayers for all of them over the next month. I will be posting the link to the blog that the students will be writing while they are gone so that we can keep up with how their trip is going.

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Today, (10-11-12) would have been my dad’s 71st birthday, so in his honor I am going to post the words I spoke at his celebration of life in June of this year (2012) during his eulogy.  But first I want to share some pictures of him in his much younger years. I smile as I look through these pictures, since there is a face he makes as a child that he also has been captured in a photo that was taken in the last month of his life, both are posted on this blog…see if you can find it. I think it will make you smile too, even if you don’t know him!

My Dad was a lover of God and of people. Making people feel welcome was important to him; putting them at ease came naturally. He was a friendly man that had a sparkle about him; you could see it in his eyes. In the last weeks of his life, when he really couldn’t communicate, he talked with his eyes and his facial expressions, even with that ornery little grin he had. He desired us to be at ease with his death. In some ways, we could see that he looked out for us all the way to the end.

Gary Blaine never met a stranger. I’ve always teased him that he could talk to a brick wall.  As you well know, he always had a smile and a kind word to share with others. Oh, don’t get me wrong, he had a temper too, but that side of him wasn’t seen very often. Dad was frugal, fair and fun loving. He loved to make people laugh. He enjoyed telling jokes, and in the last ten years, or so, it was often the same jokes over and over…lol.

He was a great encourager. So many people have told me how blessed they were that Dad took the time to tell them a story, share a Bible verse, or give a testimony that encouraged them in their walk with the Lord in regards to whatever trial they may have been going through. He loved to cheer people on, tell them they were doing a good job.

My Dad was very strong willed, or should I say stubborn. He said what he thought, even if it was contrary to everyone else’s opinion. Everyone always knew where they stood with him. But he wasn’t a harsh man. If there was tension in a situation…any situation….you would often hear Dad say, “How about them cardinals”, to try to help lighten the mood.

My father was not perfect, no one in this world is. He was, however, I am pleased to say, effortlessly himself… a prayer warrior… a worshiper of God… a man of integrity… a friend to many and for that I will be always grateful.  As Mom and I talked, and evaluated Dad’s life, we decided that 3 main passions have emerged: His love for God, his family and his country.

He loved history and stories that emphasized strong moral character. We spent so much time when the boys were growing up talking about history stuff, he even helped me teach them world history one year. He felt that learning accurate History was very important.

Dad has always been a patriot! Perhaps that began when he was drafted during the Vietnam War. I was 6 months old before my dad ever saw or held me.

It wasn’t until he got sick that he began talking about Vietnam and its devastating effects on him and the other guys. He loved having that flag pole in his yard so he could proudly fly the flag. Dad instilled his love for country in us. Many of you have been with him at the Memorial Day parade, where no matter how much pain he was in he would stand and salute the veteran’s in the parade. Standing tall and proud, he would sound out, “Welcome Home Gentlemen, welcome home”.

(This was Dad’s last Memorial Day Parade, 2010)

He never wanted to ride in the parade, although he was given the chance many times, he was more concerned with welcoming the veteran’s home than any fanfare he would receive from riding in the parade. This year our family and some of you went to the parade without Dad. It was a tough day, but the boys really felt we should go. We took Dad’s hat and vest with us and put them in his chair beside us.

Afterward a man came up to one of us and asked, “Where is that man that usually sits in that chair? We always know where we are going to sit, because we always look for him in his hat and vest.” He then expressed his sympathies to the family. It was so neat to know that my Dad touched lives that he never even met. Just by his presence and his respect for his God and his country, people were affected.

In June of 2010 Central Missouri Honor Flight invited my Dad to travel to Washington DC and visit the war memorials with them. I went along as Dad’s guardian because of his illness. The honor of accompanying him on this flight to visit the Vietnam wall as his guardian is one of the greatest memories I have. As many of you know I was born while my Dad was in Vietnam. I was 6 months old when he held me for the first time. So this trip held special significance for both of us.

Dad was grateful to get to see the wall and to communicate some things out loud to the guys that he couldn’t save. It was healing for him.

On this trip I learned something about my Dad that I didn’t know, that he was more concerned with how hard the Korean War Vets had it then talking about how hard Vietnam was. He talked so much about them and their memorial.  He was humble about his service in Vietnam, but at the same time proud that he was able to serve. A few years back Bob ordered Dad’s medals that were awarded to him after Vietnam and put them in a shadow box. If you have been to the house or visited him in the nursing home I am positive that you have seen his shadow box.

Dad continued to serve veterans after the war, by being a surgeon’s assistant at the VA hospital for 25 years. He loved working there. Because of his wounds from Vietnam he had to take an early medical retirement.

Dad was very much a family man. Anyone that knew much about him knew this.  My parents celebrated 47 years of marriage this past March, but they had dated 3 years before getting married.

My folks have been a great support to one another through the years. Dad’s learning disabilities made surgical technician school hard for him, but Mom was diligent about getting his notes transposed for him and helped him study. I remember many days I would find my parents praying and reading God’s Word together daily, especially after he retired. Them spending time together with God strengthened their bond, seeing that Bob and I have begun to do that same thing.  My parents would write notes to each other with soap on the bathroom mirror. I always found this encouraging and fun. The reality of life is they had a real marriage, they had their struggles, none of their life together was perfect, but they remained married all of his life because they chose to work through whatever came into their life with God’s strength, trying to give more to each other than they took.

Dad had dyslexia, so instead of him reading to me, when I was growing up, I read to him. I have continued reading to him, even until he passed. It was something that we enjoyed doing together as the boys were growing up. Many a night Dad and I would tuck mom in bed then stay up to watch some tv when I was younger. I loved spending time with him. I hated doing homework and I fought him on it when I was in school, but he always encouraged me.  I smile now when I think of all the days that I fussed about having to sit at the table to do my homework, not realizing that he was making memories with me that would help me as I raised our boys. I learned at a young age, not to ask permission for something more than once.  What my Dad said he meant.  My friends would want me to go back inside and beg him to get to do whatever, but I knew that if I went back in there, not only would I not get to do that, but I would get grounded from something else.  Back then I hated that, but now I am grateful for him teaching me so many things.

My father was so proud of being a Whitehead and it was always of utmost importance to him to be there for those in the Whitehead family when there was any type of event, whether happy or sad. He learned so much about being there for his family from the Whitehead men that have gone on before him.  He loved all of you very much.

My parents have always loved Bob, my Dad thought the sun rose and set with my husband. Many days, I would think, wait, “I am the child, he is the son-in-law..” I love how they have always loved him as their own.  It has helped our marriage so much. Their unconditional love gave Bob confidence and freedom to become who God intended him to be. When I mentioned Bob to Dad when he was in the nursing home, dad would always say with a little grin, “I never did like that man.”

Nathan’s birth was one of the proudest days of my dad’s life.  Gary’s first grandchild was a boy and was born on veteran’s day. Dad was thrilled to say the least. I still recall the look in his eye as he held that sweet little baby for the first time, singing two little boys and two little toys to him, with my mom looking on over his shoulder. God had given my Daddy his Silver Star.

I think that Blane’s motto “if you’re on time then your late”, came from my Dad, because Dad always arrived to work on hour or so before he was supposed to be there, he wanted time to get the first cases set up.  He was such a hard worker; he had a great work ethic, but was caring at the same time. Our boys have learned much about being a godly, patriotic man from my Dad.

I would be remiss if I did not mention at all the years that Dad and our family dealt with his Lewy Body Dementia. This disease changed my Dad in so many ways, but even up to the end there was always a little Gary Whitehead that would surface.

He struggled so much with this disease, it seemed to beat him up in his mind. I think there was so much that happened in his mind that we will never understand. But even when things were hardest, God always allowed Dad peace and assurance after a time. As promised in the Bible, God does not ever leave or forsake His children and we saw God be faithful in so many ways. My Dad loved to praise the Lord without restraint.  His dementia didn’t take this desire from him. He still was quick to raise his hand in praise to God when we sang songs of worship to him, even in the weeks before he passed. When the senior choir came to his room to sing to him not that long ago, “Amen. Glory. Hallelujah!”, if I recall correctly, were the words that came from his mouth after they finished singing.

My Dad became a Christian after he and his comrades were blown up by a booby trap in Vietnam. There in the army hospital in Japan, when they thought they were going to have to amputate both of his legs, my Dad asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins and surrendered his life to God. While Dad has struggled from time to time, as we all do in our Christian walk, he never stopped trusting God, or encouraging others to do the same.

Probably my Dad is most well-known for the hearty amen that could always be heard from him when there was some sort of disruption in the worship service. That one word would encourage others and “lighten the mood”. I have heard from several of you that have been blessed by his encouraging heart. He was a giving man; whatever he had he would willingly give or share. In this way and many more, he pointed us to Christ.

My parents worked well together in God’s Kingdom…most of the time! Whether that was on the mission field in Haiti, cooking snack suppers at church, teaching Survival Kit for new Christians SS class, they truly desired to share with others their love for the Lord.

Dad was a deacon, he loved serving God and Christ’s body in that capacity.  He would pray with and for people often. He made many visits to those that had needs when he was able to get around. Although he loved serving God in all ways, serving the people of Haiti and the people of God, through either medical missions or his gift of cooking, was dearest to his heart. His gift of cooking is something that God developed in him after he retired from working at the VA Hospital. While Dad was blessed with the gift of cooking some great meals, the mess that he made in that process just came naturally to him. Many of you know that Dad would dirty about every pot possible when he cooked, but the food sure was good!

Gary Blane Whitehead is in heaven now because he trusted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. He is smiling and whole, for the first time ever. And that brings us this calm assurance that will get us through the tough days that are ahead. Because you see about a week before he passed away, I was going to leave for a little bit, as I was leaning to kiss him goodbye, he said, “I’m home. I’m home.” With this huge smile on his face and his hand reaching toward that sky he said, “Wow. Wow. It’s beautiful.” I said, “daddy, can you tell me what you see?” With this look of awe on his face, he said, “Words cannot describe this.” And from then on Dad didn’t cry as he had been doing. We believe that God gave him a tiny glimpse of heaven that helped him long more for heaven than he longed to stay with us.

I would like to take a few moments to share with you what God has taught me through my relationship with my earthly father’s life, his Lewy Body Dementia and his death.

I was quite discouraged in January of this year, depression was closing in on me, because I was focusing on the situation with my Dad and Blane graduating and not being able to do everything that I felt I should be doing instead of Christ. One day a friend sent me the book “One Thousand Gifts”  in the mail that challenged me to take time each day to count the gifts, list them out somewhere what God was providing daily for me.

I learned that it was in eucharisteo (giving thanks) that I would learn how to find joy in all things. Giving thanks to God leads to praise. As I realized that I didn’t have any control over anything in my life, really, I began to see so clearly my desperate need for Christ. Counting God’s gifts changed me from a negative, depressed person that always saw the down side of things, into this person that eagerly anticipated what little gift God was going to place in my day to prove time and time again His faithfulness to me.

You see, I’ve known Jesus Christ as my Savior since I was 21 y.o., but I haven’t been living my life fully surrendered to Him. I have wanted to have control. Events in my life over the last few years have caused me to see that I really didn’t TRUST God as the words that came out of my mouth implied.

I saw that God desired to take me into deeper water, waters so deep that I couldn’t even see if there was a bottom, so that I could learn to trust in Him alone, not in myself, or others, just Him alone.

Watching my Dad suffer with this horrible illness that was slowly consuming who my Dad used to be, could have totally stolen my joy and caused me to fear (and sometimes it did), but God used this to show me an analogy of something beautiful, yet painful that I could learn from something so devastating.

God was trying to bring me to a place that Christ so consumed me that it wasn’t me that people saw, but Christ in me, the hope of glory.

God used something horrible that was happening to my earthly Dad to draw me closer to my Heavenly Father, the only One that could meet my needs. I am far from being totally surrendered, but each day I see God drawing me closer and closer.

I am so grateful that God never let’s go of me, He never gives up on me and will continue to walk me through whatever it is He allows in my life. He has proved Himself trustworthy and faithful through it all and I pray that I can willingly continue to offer Him an opened hand and live a life that is surrendered to Him no matter the cost.

In closing, to those of you that are unsure of whether you will go to heaven when you die, please allow me to encourage you to nail that down today, seek someone out to explain what it means to trust Jesus as your Savior so that you can know the peace that my Dad, Mom and I have. And for those of you that have trusted in Jesus as your Savior and Lord, let me encourage you with words from Hebrews 12:1-3.

Offer God your open hand, knowing upfront that this offering may bring pain, but you will never be sorry that you did, because He will bring beauty from ashes, if you will but trust Him.

 

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