Spectrum communities across the country create lasting tributes to the heroes among us.
When you hear the word hero what type of picture is conjured in your mind? Do you immediately think of the Man of Steel, outrunning bullets and leaping tall buildings? Perhaps your idea involves a tired woman who simply refused to give up her seat on a bus. Or maybe it brings back memories of a teacher or mentor who had an indelible impact on your life.
Everyone has his or her own unique perspective when it comes to defining a hero. The one thing we can all agree on is that anyone who risked personal safety to save the lives of others during wartime is the epitome of a hero.
At Spectrum Retirement, we’ve been fortunate to have many real-life heroes call our communities “home.” Recently, some of our heroes have been recognized for their selfless acts during wartime — helping others and in the process saving lives. Here we share their stories.
"You Can't" Was Never an Option
“My service was pretty ordinary,” says a much-too-humble Jim Irby, Air Force veteran and resident of The Enclave at Anthem Senior Living in Anthem, Arizona. But there’s nothing ordinary about riding as a tail gunner — that’s the guy who crawls into the confined space at the back of the plane and rides backward the entire time — in a B-29 aircraft (the largest, most modern airplane in the world at that time).
If that’s not extraordinary enough, the story of Jim’s strong desire to serve his country is amazing.
In 1943, during WWII, a then 17-year-old Jim tried to enlist. Told he was too skinny and underweight, he did what any teenage boy from Michigan would do: “I went down to my grandparents, on the farm, and my grandmother tried to fatten me up!” Jim returned to the recruiting office in January 1944 (one month after his 18th birthday) and once again was told he was too underweight. But one of the recruiting officers recognized him and said: “If you want in so bad ... you’re in.”
A Guide to Safety
After completing gunnery training in Fort Myers, Florida, Jim was eventually stationed on the island of Iwo Jima. Here Jim and the crew of The Outlaw (the name of their B-29 aircraft) were tasked with the job of escorting fighter planes from Japan after bomb strikes. “The B-47 was a gas hog and many times they barely made it back to the island before they ran out of fuel,” explains Jim. “In those days there was no such thing as radar. They had to rely on compasses and the fighters often had trouble finding their way back to that little island in the middle of the Pacific. That’s why they needed us. They didn’t have much margin of error in finding their way home.”
Jim served in the Twentieth Air Force from 1944 to 1946, staying on as part of the reserve, then served again from 1951 to 1952 during the Korean War.
One thing war heroes know is dedication. Jim is just as dedicated to his marriage as he was to serving his country. He and his wife, Grace, recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
In May, Jim and 23 other veterans were honored in a ceremony thanking them for their service. A procession of students from Youth for Troops waved American flags high as the heroes were escorted to seats of honor. The men (and one woman) participated in the unveiling of The Enclave at Anthem Senior Living’s “Hero Wall” and are the first veterans to have their portraits displayed. “It made me feel real proud to be a part of it,” said Jim. “It made us all feel pretty special.”
The Three Amigos
Perhaps it was fate that brought three men from very different backgrounds together at HighPointe Assisted Living & Memory Care in Denver, Colorado. Or maybe it was a fraternal pull experienced by men who served our country.
Whatever it was, three veterans (William “Bud” Allen, Freemond Seney, and Tony Colnar) united to share their final years together.
As the families recall, there was not much talk about what went on during their time in the service. “Being part of the Silent Generation, they were never about bemoaning the deprivations of WWII,” explains Kim Olstad, Bud Allen’s daughter.
Bud and Freemond were residents of HighPointe Assisted Living & Memory Care since 2014. In 2017, when Tony moved in, the three were immediately drawn together. They soon became inseparable, earning their nickname “The Three Amigos.”
The Three Amigos shared meals together, participated in resident activities, and celebrated holidays with their families and one another. The families noticed that the more time the men spent together the more open they became, sharing stories of missions and battles, and injuries. They soon realized they were in the presence of three genuine military heroes.
Inspired by the stories, Freemond’s daughter, Renee, took on a mission of her own. She began organizing a “Military Service Recognition Program” to honor the dedication and sacrifices of these veterans.
On October 13, 2017, the warm and welcoming HighPointe Sky Lounge buzzed with anticipation. At the front of the room sat The Three Amigos — completely unaware they would soon be the center of attention. Renee had contacted a representative from the U. S. Army who felt privileged to participate in the ceremony. Two Army representatives decked out in full uniform made their way to the front of the room to officially thank each man for his service. Before the Army Sergeants could utter a syllable, The Three Amigos chimed, almost in unison, “Thank you for your service,” showing their love of country remained strong. “It was very moving, and there was not a dry eye in the room,” says Kim.
This unique and special celebration is not the only way HighPointe Assisted Living & Memory Care recognizes and honors their veteran residents. As you walk into the open, airy lobby a Military Service Board prominently displays the names of every resident who served our country.
Bud, age 92, passed away peacefully, on October 20, 2017, one week after this personal Military Service Recognition Program.
Tony, age 98, passed away two weeks after Bud on November 6, 2017.
Freemond passed away on April 5, 2018.