Letter from Donald Shade-a VAC Volunteer

Marine Corporals Brett Sobaski and Christopher Lawrence

First, let us thank you for what you created with the VAC and all the time and effort you invest in what you do. This program provided the most amazing weekend for Roger, me and dozens of others in our Big Bear City, CA airport community.

As you know, Viet Nam Combat Veteran Roger Schmidt and I each flew our Skylanes to San Diego Montgomery Field in response to a VAC request to provide wounded Marines with an introductory flight in small aircraft. The date seemed perfect since our Pilot’s Association already had two aviation events planned which we were certain the Marines would enjoy.

On Friday, July 11th, Roger and I took off from Big Bear City Airport for the 100 mile flight to San Diego arriving just before noon. We met Marine Corporal’s Christopher Lawrence and Brett Sobaski at the terminal. First impressions proved accurate throughout the weekend as these two shining examples of courage & patriotism reminded us of the thousands of men and women who risk their lives to keep our country free.

Of coincidental note was the fact that Cpl. Sobaski was wearing a John Deere tractor t-shirt. This led to the quick discovery that Brett and Roger were Iowa neighbors, both knowing many of the other’s relatives.

Each Marine sat right seat in our Cessnas doing a fantastic job navigating over Miramar Naval Air Station and March Air Reserve Base en route back to Big Bear. Once landed, we hopped into my Jeep, top down, and headed off to lunch at a local Mexican restaurant. A drive around Big Bear Lake terminated at the airport where both Marines were enthusiastically greeted by our airport staff.

That evening, the Marines were again welcomed by 10 of us “airport folk” with a barbecue chicken dinner at my home. As most of us over-ate, Cpl. Brett Sobaski put us at ease by sharing the mid-west advice that his Grandfather gave him at an early age: “Bretty. Let me tell you… When Sobaski’s dine we don’t get full. We just get tired of eating.” That seemed to set the tone for the rest of the weekend.

After dinner we retreated to the big screen to watch “The Final Season”, a DVD movie about Iowa Baseball Champions in the town where Roger and Brett grew up. I won’t bore you with all the Iowa comments, but rest assured that Cpl. Lawrence, a Wisconsin native, and I, a California boy, had to roll our eyes more than once in response to the banter between the two.

Cpl. Sobaski left to spend the night at Roger’s home while Cpl. Lawrence stayed with me.

On Saturday at 0830 it was off again to the airport to fly EAA Young Eagles ( http://www.bigbearcityairport.com/young_eagles.html ). Eleven Big Bear Aircraft flew more than 60 Big Bear kids around the mountain peaks that morning. Cpls. Lawrence and Sobaski spent most of their time flying a turbine powered Aero Commander piloted by Big Bear Airport Commissioner Jay Obernolte. Scattered clouds and docile winds provided everyone with a great flying experience.

After lunch Cpl. Sobaski opted for a flight lesson with B.B.A.P.A. CFI Bill Jones and headed off down runway 08 in the Skylane. Cpl. Lawrence chose to spend his time “flying” on the ground in Roger’s 2007 Corvette. Rumor has it that ground speed of the Corvette may have exceeded that of the 182 for a short period of time. I do know that both Marine’s returned from their “flights” with smiles on their faces.

At 1500 both Marines were guests of honor at our Big Bear Airport Pilot’s Association Hangar Party / Barbecue. Seventy-five community members came out to thank the Marines for the sacrifices they’ve made and injuries they’ve suffered to keep us free. With the Marine Hymn playing in the background, retired Marine Colonel Bill Alley choked back tears of pride as he presented the Marines with a decorated cake, thanking the soldiers for service to their country. A dozen other Marine Veterans in attendance were evidenced by utterances of “Semper Fi” and “Oorah” heard throughout the afternoon. It was a proud day for all of us.

Both Marines expressed thanks and appreciation to those in attendance, and again tears started to flow. A standing ovation was immediate and well deserved for these two amazing young men.

U.S.M.C. Veteran Joe Landaker, father of Big Bear’s Marine 1st Lt. Jared M. Landaker, hosted both Marines at his home that Evening. Jared Landaker is a Big Bear Community Hero who died Feb. 7, 2007 when the helicopter he was flying in crashed while supporting combat operations in Anbar: ( http://militarytimes.com/honor/2552631.html )

This was a very special weekend for many people in Big Bear and Roger and I look forward to doing it again as VAC volunteers.

Marine Corporals Christopher Lawrence and Brett Sobaski should be a reminder to all of us that there are hundreds more like them rehabilitating in Military Hospitals all round the country. They appreciate any show of support that you can give them. Stop by a hospital and visit, send a card or care package, take them out on the town or a short trip, everything is appreciated.

This morning I had the personal honor and privilege of flying these two heroes back to San Diego. As you wrote to me in an earlier email, it’s the best kind of flying you can do.

Thanks again for what you and all the other VAC volunteers do. It does make a difference.

- Donald Shade

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