As Veterans Day approaches, I am reminded of how grateful I am to be in touch with so many of the men and women who have shaped this country's history. For anyone who hasn't had the pleasure of connecting with these brave men and women, I'd like to share some of the stories that I am lucky enough to hear about every single day. The organization I founded, Wish of a Lifetime, grants lifelong wishes to seniors across the country. I started the organization in 2008 in honor of my own grandmother and in order to change the culture of aging in this country. In 2010, we partnered with Brookdale Senior Living to grant wishes to their residents, and I am thrilled to report that we recently granted our 1,000th wish.
Through Wish of a Lifetime, I've had the pleasure of accompanying one veteran to the beaches of Normandy, so that he could retrace his steps and memorialize his fellow soldiers. I've also been in the room for the emotional reunion of one WWII veteran, the first African-American NFL draftee, with his best friend and former high school football rival, another WWII veteran, after 60 years. Here are some more of my favorite wishes that we have granted to veterans this year:
Richard Colbert, 91, is a Brookdale resident from Urbana, Ohio. He came from a patriotic family, deeply involved in WWII. He had a brother in the Army Air Corps, another brother in the Navy, and a sister in the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). At 17, Richard heard a radio ad for the Merchant Marines and decided he had to join. He served during WWII and experienced frequent combat. He was an oiler on his ship and served in every major combat theater during the war. At 91, Richard's wish was to once again be onboard a Liberty Ship used by the Merchant Marine and to join the SS Jon W Brown in Baltimore, one of only two remaining active Liberty Ships in the country. This past June, we sent Richard to Baltimore with his nephew David, also a veteran, and the crew saluted the heroes. Richard's broad smile on that day tells the whole story.
Lou Weiske, 90, is a Brookdale resident from Denver, Colorado. Lou also joined the service at age 17 and served in the Army Air Corps for the next 28 years. His time in the Air Corps as a B-24 gunner is a source of great joy and storytelling for his children and grandchildren. Over his years in the service, through WWII and the Korean War, Lou was stationed throughout England and Japan. He reached the ranking of Senior Master Sergeant in the Air Force before being honorably discharged in 1970. On July 7th, we were able to grant Lou his wish of flying again in a B-24. Working closely with The Collings Foundation, a nonprofit with a mission to organize and support 'living history' events throughout the US, Lou took flight in one of the world's only fully restored B-24 Liberators. Family and Brookdale residents were on hand to support him as he took to the skies.
Annette Zeisler, 91, a Brookdale resident from Boynton Beach, Florida told us that she could not "sit around while her loved ones were serving in the war," so she joined the Navy as a WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Her two older brothers and twin brother had all joined the Navy, and Annette followed in their military footsteps. Annette was stationed in the WAVES Quarter "K" in Arlington, VA, and has very fond memories from that period in her life. Her wish was to once again visit Washington, DC to see the WWII Memorial. Ten years prior, Annette had visited that memorial with her husband, also a WWII veteran. This past May, we sent Annette with her daughter, Casey, to visit the site to commemorate the service and memory of her husband and three brothers, who have passed away since her last visit. Tears in her eyes, Annette remembered them with her daughter by her side.
For Veterans Day, my wish is that we honor and thank the courageous men and women who have built this country. Take a moment and listen to their stories; they are truly an inspiration.
To submit a wish application, visit www.seniorwish.org