Luke opens base to thank vets - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Luke opens base to thank vets

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Posted: Monday, November 7, 2011 9:02 am | Updated: 5:09 pm, Thu Nov 10, 2011.

Jim Starr served in the Navy during the 1940s and stood witness to some of the most memorable events in American history.

Starr, 92, who served between 1938 and 1946, recalled the eight U.S. battleships struck during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941.

Four years later, Starr said he was at Iwo Jima and actually saw the five Marine and Navy officers raise the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi, an historic event that was captured on film and stands as a reminder of the nation’s victory over the Japanese during World War II.

“I remember that like it was yesterday,” Starr said Saturday during Retiree Appreciation Day at Luke Air Force Base. “Things like that stick with you.”

The Sun City resident said he attends the Luke event every year and enjoys seeing what’s changed at Luke Air Force Base and chatting with other military veterans about their experiences.

“I like to meet new people and also see those familiar faces,” he said. “This event gives us all a time to reflect on our service. Talking about the past is great and enriching.”

With an estimated 92,000 military retirees in the Valley, Starr joined an anticipated 500 to 700 other Army, Navy and Air Force veterans during Saturday’s event, said Capt. Matthew Nielsen, 56th Medical Group program manager.

“These retirees live in the area, and we feel year after year that it’s necessary to give back,” Nielsen said. “They’re part of our team and family and sacrificed so much for our nation. This event is just a small way to show them that they’re still appreciated.”

The four-hour event featured military working dog demonstrations, explosive ordnance team performances and displays of F-16 and other aircraft.

In addition, veterans could learn about military benefits and medical services, as well as various offerings at the base at a number of information booths. Flu shots, food, drink and entertainment were also provided.

Nielsen said Saturday’s event featured 20 retiree organizations, whose members are part of committees at Luke Air Force Base. The commander noted gauging the interests and opinions of military retirees can be helpful.

“We can learn from them,” Nielsen said.

Sun Citian Roy O’Neal, who served in the Army during World War II, said stepping foot on a military base and talking about the past brought back memories of a different time in his life.

O’Neal has attended Retiree Appreciation Day for the past four years and said exchanging stories with other veterans and seeing what they’re up to is meaningful.

For Bob Roberts, showing gratitude to veterans and for those still in the service is what Saturday’s event was all about.

“All these people have worked hard and sacrificed for our country,” said Roberts, a Surprise resident who served in the Air Force from 1965 to 1987. “It’s good of all of us to come out and show our gratitude to them.”

Zach Colick can be reached at 623-876-2522 or zcolick@yourwestvalley.com.

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