Members of the Desert Lightning Team participated in a medallion ceremony honoring World War II veterans held Sept. 7 at Silver Springs Senior Living Community in Green Valley.
The ceremony was a joint endeavor between local branches of all four services and Silver Springs. Silver Springs is an independent and assisted senior living community located near the Santa Rita Mountains in Green Valley, Ariz.
The idea for the medallion ceremony was sparked through involvement with Honor Flight. Honor Flight is an organization that sponsors trips for World War II veterans to visit Washington, DC and tour the war memorials, taking care of all travel expenses.
According to Senior Master Sgt. Charles Ruscetta, 563rd Operations Support Squadron superintendent, the efforts of an Airman who regularly volunteers with the Tucson chapter of Honor Flight came to the attention of Chief Master Sgt. Dawna Cnota, 355th Fighter Wing command chief.
"Chief Cnota brought up a medallion ceremony committee she'd been a part of at a former base," Ruscetta said. "Once we heard about it, we were all on board. Then the Top 3, the First Sergeant Committee and the Chief's Group got involved, and the ball was rolling."
The committee sent out formal letters to Veterans of Foreign Wars state representatives inquiring about World War II veterans.
"Another Honor Flight volunteer put us in touch with the executive director of Silver Spings, who offered us the use of his facilities for the event," Ruscetta said.
The executive director also revealed that he had more than 30 World War II veterans in residence at his community. Of those, nineteen chose to participate in the ceremony.Roughly 70 Airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines volunteered to escort the veterans being honored during the ceremony.
"After we arrived at Silver Springs, we were to go to their rooms and help them get ready for the ceremony," said Staff Sgt. Kellie Jones, medallion ceremony volunteer. "When my husband and I got to her room, she was basically ready so we sat and talked about her time overseas. She met her husband over there."
The medallions were presented by Col. Kevin Blanchard, 355th Fighter Wing commander, U.S. Army Col. Shaun Tooke, 1st Battlefield Coordination Detachment commander and U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Steve Kennedy, Naval Operational Support Center Tucson command master chief.
"We're also members of the military, but what they did was so different; they fought a different type of war and I'm thankful for them," Jones said. "Because of them, I am able to sit in this chair talking to you today. That's the bottom line of why I decided to volunteer; I just wanted to tell someone thank you."
Ruscetta said the intent is to make the ceremony a recurring event. The next medallion ceremony is slated to be held in December in Tucson.
"Personally I think it's just the right thing to do for our veterans," Ruscetta said. "World War II veterans went straight back to work when they came home. The whole country was at war, so they didn't get the recognition that we do when we return from a deployment. We make a big deal about our returns home, which we should because we were at war. But what about them? They deserve some appreciation as well."
If you would like to volunteer for the next medallion ceremony, or if you know a World War II veteran eligble to be honored, contact Ruscetta at firstname.lastname@example.org.