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Honor among friends  

Pictured from the front of the Helicopter to the back: Pilot in Command Zackary Walker, Charlene Hyde, Jane Hall, Pilot Weston Kania, Betty Child, Connie McGurk, Activity Aide Jessie Pitzer, Crew Chief/Medic Jess Adamson, Mary Walker, Duane Sypherd, Raymond Preston, Joy Armstrong, Larry Call and Deloyd “Doc Anderson. Not pictured: Billie Nield and Frances Eckberg-Shapiro. PHOTO CREDIT: STEVEN PITZER.

With a sound so distinct, this had to be the real deal. Coming over the west hills of Afton, a small, black speck continued to grow as it descended from the late afternoon sky. Powerful winds bounced around the ground space, and the deafening roar of spinning rotors split the air as the Blackhawk Helicopter touched down.

On Tuesday, July 11, 2023, Mr. Raymond Preston, Ms. Jane Hall, Mr. Deloyd “Doc” Anderson, Ms. Joy Armstrong, Mr. Larry Call, Ms. Connie McGurk, Ms. Charlene Hyde, Ms. Betty Child, and Mr. Duane Sypherd, all residents at the Star Valley Health Care Center, witnessed the exhilarating landing, and found themselves enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get up close and personal with the aircraft and its crew.

Pilot in Command Zack Walker, along with his crew members, Pilot Weston Kania, and Crew Chief/Medic Jess Adamson, of the Idaho Guard 1-168 Medevac Unit, were conducting various training exercises and meeting annual flight time requirements, when they made a brief stop in Zack’s home town.

Zack and his family live in Star Valley. His wife, Kately Walker, an Infusion RN at Star Valley Health, and his mother, Mary Walker, who serves as a social worker at the Care Center with SVH, knew he was bringing his bird and his crew to Afton. Mary thought it would be a great outing for the Care Center residents, and she wasn’t wrong. They LOVED it!

Resident Charlene Hyde visits with Pilot in Command Zack Walker, who is the grandson of Charlene’s good friend, Kathy Walker. PHOTO/MARILYN HEGGENSTALLER

“It was very spur of the moment,” smiled Mary, with a twinkle in her eye. “The residents loved this experience and talked about it for days afterward. They continue to talk about it today.” (Six weeks later). “We printed off some pictures for them and most of them have them hanging in their rooms.  Raymond said the only disappointment was that ‘They didn’t take me up for a flight.’”

The crew took the time to talk to the residents, answer their questions, and take pictures with them. They also visited with their family members before duty called them back to the sky.

Jane Hall, who was born in Bowling Green, Kentucky in the late 1930’s, fell in love with the whole experience. She was very pleased to have her daughter and granddaughter visiting her that day. With a wide grin, she said, “It was beautiful! Especially when it was taking off! And I thought ‘America! Yeah!’ I just love America. You couldn’t find a better place.” As a young child, Jane suffered from polio, but her older brothers exercised her preschool legs for her, which gave her the ability to walk without a device most of her life. Jane’s patriotism and appreciation for servicemen and women runs deep. Her father, who served in the Army, took her to many states before she settled in Wyoming.

In a very tender, eloquent voice, Betty Child shared her impressions of that day. “I was so impressed. I went up and talked to the pilot and I told him how much I appreciated him, and he told me that he had been in Iraq for a year, and I just marveled at their love for people, because he would go die for me, and that’s an awesome thought to know that there is someone who loves their country like I do. I grew up with a father” (Doyle Child) “who was very patriotic, and I am so glad I caught that [patriotism]. As they flew away, and I just sat there and watched it fade away and listened to it getting further away and further away, and the sound doing the same, and I just wished they could do it again. I wanted them to come back. It was one of the neatest feelings I have had for a long time. I was grateful, really grateful, that I was able to talk to them. They have children, and he was holding his baby as he was there in his uniform, doing a job for his country. I love my country and I love this little spot on the earth.”

Duane Sypherd’s smile says it all as he enjoys a rare expe- rience with a Blackhawk Helicopter and its crew. PHOTO/ MARILYN HEGGENSTALLER

Raymond Preston, who was able to sit in the helicopter, teased that he was a bit disappointed. “He wouldn’t take me for a ride.” With a little wink, he grinned, “Of course, he wasn’t supposed to. I got a picture of me sitting in it, but I didn’t get to sit in the driver’s seat. They wouldn’t let me in there. They didn’t have orders that they could do that.” As a young man, Raymond was drafted during the Vietnam War, but never entered the service due to polio.

It was entirely new and a complete delight for Connie McGurk. “It was a lot of fun. We had to stand back, because the rotors made so much wind, but they were so pretty. I went inside and the crew sat inside with us. It was so much fun. It really was. I’ve never had stuff around like that, and I’ve never heard anything like that before, so it was good.”

Charlene Hyde, who turns 92 this weekend, was reminded of her exceptional experiences as a youth, traveling with her father, who served in the military during WWII in several capacities. “He fought in the European theater and was activated with the Utah National Guard. He also went with the Military Police and then with the 35th Division that was Harry Truman and Patton’s Army. The first reunion that we ever went to with the 35th Division was in Kansas City, Missouri. I got to see Harry S. Truman, and I got to see Dwight D. Eisenhower who later got to be President [of the United States]. I was about 14 at that time and Bob Hope did training with the group, so I did see a lot of important people from a distance, so it was fun. I lived a lot of history.”

“I just think this was a really great experience,” shared Jessie Pitzer, who serves the residents as Activity Aide in the Care Center. “They really enjoyed it. I just loved seeing their smiles and fascination with it and being able to greet the crew that flew it. It was just awesome that we could do that for them. It was all worth it because the residents had so much fun.”

Resident Joy Armstrong, CNA Olivia Bryant, and resident Raymond Preston, enjoy the thrill of sitting in a Blackhawk Helicopter this last July. PHOTO/MARILYN HEGGENSTALLER

Speaking as a mother, Mary shared, “These servicemen sacrifice a lot for their country, and it’s not just the servicemen, it’s their families. It’s a real thing that they become a true band of brothers. They love each other and they would give their lives for each other and for us. Many already have.”

Hearts were very tender that day, as these mature friends had a memorable experience with such a powerful machine and its crew. They felt valued and grateful for the people who cared enough to provide them with the opportunity, and the servicemen who took time to greet them and enjoy their company.

Though the dinner bell rang, the residents determined that dinner could wait. This experience was of greater value than their meal. And so, they waited and watched as the mighty machine, with its honored crew, lifted from the ground and returned toward the west hills. But, the greater honor that day, was to nine residents, who will forever remember the love of three servicemen who spent a small portion of their day lifting hearts and making new friends.

Resident Connie McGurk enjoys posing with the crew members of the Blackhawk.
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