The stars were twinkling overhead, the moon was illuminating the sky, and most of Crescent City was still slumbering.
It was 4 a.m., and Ray Colby was ensuring the van was ready for the drive. He would soon be making his weekly trip north transporting veterans to their doctors’ appointments in Roseburg, Ore.
He makes this trek north to Bandon, picking up veterans along the way in the towns dotting the Oregon Coast. Once the van arrives in Bandon, Ray either transfers the veterans to another van or makes the drive himself, shuttling the veterans to the Roseburg VA Medical Center.
When all appointments have been completed, Ray reverses his route and safely delivers the veterans back to their homes. This round-trip journey makes for a 12-hour day. Ray has been navigating this route for 15 years and has logged over 10,000 hours of driving time.
Ray is part of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program!
Two other RSVP volunteers also transport veterans to their medical appointments. Don Johnson follows the same path as Ray, delivering veterans to the Roseburg medical facility. Linndell Scarbrough, retired Del Norte veterans’ services officer, drives a southern route to the Eureka VA Center.
Both volunteers make weekly trips to the medical centers. Ray, Don, and Linndell are military veterans.
“When I first started driving,” shares Ray, “we had five drivers. Now we are down to three.”
To be a volunteer driver, one must have a clean driving record and be able to pass an annual physical.
In addition to driving, senior volunteers support veterans in numerous other ways. Jan Martin and her team focus on currently active or recently wounded soldiers. For over nine years this volunteer team, sponsored by various Del Norte women’s groups, has been shipping shoeboxes of goodies to soldiers in the Middle East.
Three different kinds of shoeboxes are sent — snack boxes, toiletry boxes, and burrito boxes.
Army and Marine foot soldiers who are stationed in the outposts and don’t get packages from home, are the recipients of these boxes. Thirty to 40 boxes are shipped to soldiers each month from April through December.
Besides sending supply boxes to soldiers in the Middle East, the team also uses monetary donations to send contributions or purchase action games, movies, and phone cards for wounded Marines at Camp Pendleton.
The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 1381, composed of veterans from all branches of the service who have served in overseas combat areas, are actively involved in assisting local veterans, students and the Del Norte community.
Volunteers through this organization, along with the Ladies Auxiliary volunteers, help to operate the VFW Canteen and host monthly Friday night dinners. VFW Post 1381 is instrumental in the betterment of its cemetery through the installation of a flag pole and lights on the property; the placement of a chemical toilet on site; and, with the assistance of the Crescent City Emblem Club, the distribution of over 1,700 Memorial Day flags on graves.
The post also hosts several events, including the Fourth of July Breakfast, the Labor Day Veterans’ Feed, and the Veterans’ Day Dinner, as well as assisting with the organization of the Veterans’ Day Parade.
In addition, volunteers distribute Buddy Poppies during these events. Supporting Del Norte youth, Post 1381 annually sends four young men to Boys State and also assists with post-secondary educational costs of current graduates with their annual distribution of $5,000-$7,000 in scholarship monies awarded through the Del Norte Scholarship Foundation.
Assisting homeless veterans with food, motel and gas coupons is another focus of Post 1381.
Finally, members of the VFW Honor Guard salute their own by playing taps and presenting the American flag to families at funerals of veterans.
Another active veterans’ group, Viet Now, consists of Viet Nam and Middle East War vets. These member volunteers are responsible for keeping food stocked for homeless vets, distributing Thanksgiving and Christmas baskets to homeless families, helping families of deployed spouses, providing scholarships to local graduates, and helping maintain the Veterans’ Hall.
Both the VFW Post 1381 and the Viet Now volunteers, working in conjunction with other community members, are in the process of creating a Veterans’ Point of Honor Monument. As a result of over seven years of dedicated planning, this volunteer group is hoping to acquire its final permit in the near future.
The monument, which would commemorate veterans from all five branches of military service, is planned for the S Curve on Highway 101 South, with construction to be completed by local contractors.
Making his way into local homeless encampments, Jerry Johnson, VFW Post 1381 commander and Viet Nam veteran volunteer, is searching for homeless veterans to assist. Armed with survival bags filled with clothes, ponchos, hats, food rations, sleeping bags, blankets, and a tent, Jerry distributes these bags to needy homeless vets. Jerry is the “go-to” person for homeless vets, dedicating countless volunteer hours to improving their life situations.
An American proverb states, “Actions and words are the windows through which the heart is seen.” Through the actions and words of veteran volunteers helping their fellow veterans, one can readily observe their heartfelt loyalty and kindness.
Bonnie Finley is the volunteer coordinator for the Area 1 Agency on Aging Volunteer Center of the Redwoods/RSVP.