East Ridge resident Gary Sisler has made one of his missions at the life plan community to bring together his neighbors who are also veterans like himself. His goal is to provide an opportunity for fellow resident-veterans to bond over their shared military experiences and find camaraderie among each other.
On November 11th, as the country comes together – while apart – to honor the brave men and women who served in our armed forces, Sisler and East Ridge will also honor the more than 25 veterans living at the community. More than 350 American flags will line East Ridge’s meandering streets in Cutler Bay, Fla. in their honor.
In prior years, Sisler has organized tribute ceremonies but acknowledges this year’s celebration is much different due to the safety measures in place at the Cutler Bay retirement community.
The monthly Veteran Luncheon, which recently resumed with social distancing precautions, brings together resident-veterans from independent and assisted living as well as those living in Three Palms Health Center. While the veterans have served in a variety of branches of the Armed Forces, they share a common link and enjoy hearing each other’s stories.
Bob Schomber served in the U.S. Army as a Lieutenant during the Vietnam War. Though he never was sent to Vietnam, he was stationed at Ft. Huachuca in southeast Arizona, about 50 miles north of the Mexican border. Shortly after arriving he was told by the Colonel commanding his battalion that since he was the Senior Lieutenant in the battalion, he would soon become a Company Commander. When he replied, “Sir, I don’t know anything about being a Company Commander,” the Colonel said, “You’ll learn.” At age 22, he was in command of 400 men.
Schomber recalls his military memories with such vividness they seem like yesterday, especially when he recounts how he was knocked through a wall while interviewing an unstable AWOL prisoner.
Similarly, resident Larry Adams has detailed recollections about his Army career, including a unique aspect: baseball. While he had a distinguished military career and served in the European theater setting up strategic plans after the war, when his children asked what he did, he tells them he played baseball.
When Adams was graduating high school at 16, the Army offered him the opportunity to take the exams to become a pilot. Since he needed to be 18 to get into flight school, he was assigned to Purdue University to study engineering. While there, Adams made the baseball team. He continued his pre-flight training as an air cadet at Biloxi Field in Mississippi and made the baseball team there.
When the Army was taking a huge number of air cadets to become infantry fighters for the Normandy Invasion, the Army’s baseball team was halfway through their season and the team wasn’t required to go. Baseball probably saved his life as a significant number of these battle infantry recruits were post Normandy casualties.
When the war was over, a baseball team was created to help servicemen take their minds off the war, and tryouts were held in Bis Baden, Germany. There was stiff competition as many of the men were former baseball professionals or had played ball in college. Adams was the last to be selected and made the Air Force team as a pitcher.
His baseball skills provided opportunities to play at different military bases in Morocco and throughout Europe. He had a special service classification as a non-officer on a team in a non-combat role. His military baseball experience also opened the door to his 42-year career with Florida Power and Light, where he became a vice president.
These are just a few of the fascinating stories Sisler has learned about his neighbors an fellow Veterans. He has personally interviewed many of the resident-veterans for living histories, documenting their military experiences. The interviews are filmed and periodically shown on East Ridge’s in-house TV channel.