MARIETTA - Sharing a few laughs and more than a few finger-licking ribs, drivers of the Washington County Veterans Service Commission were celebrated Tuesday.
Since 1991, the commission has counted on volunteers that help shuttle veterans back and forth to doctor's appointments in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kentucky.
"Most of the vets we transport are very appreciative of the program. If they have eight appointments in two months, there might be some in Columbus and some in Chillicothe. It's a big expense for them, so they're very grateful," said Tom Kukulka, coordinator of the transportation program.
Photo by Jasmine Rogers
After a dinner in their honor at the Washington County Veterans Service Office Tuesday, drivers, from left, Ken Young, Wilbur Spindler, Don Young, Gary Worstell and Blaine Weinstock pose for a photo next to one of the vehicles used in the Washington County Veterans Service Commission transportation program.
Photo by Jasmine Rogers
Former driver Wilbur Spindler, center, talks with Sherry Young, left, and his daughter Pat Love during an appreciation dinner Tuesday evening at the Veterans Service Office in Marietta.
The commission wanted to pass that gratitude on to the drivers, and opted for a dinner where current and former drivers could get together to reminisce and share a meal, courtesy of the Veterans Service Commission members and Veterans Service Office staff, said Kukulka.
Blaine Weinstock, 77, of Wesley Township has been volunteering to transport drivers for around seven years. As an Air Force veteran who served from 1957 to 1961, Weinstock said he enjoys the time spent in the vehicle chatting with fellow veterans.
"We talk. We share war stories. There's one guy especially I pick up and take to Chillicothe. He was in the second World War," said Weinstock.
Volunteering to Drive
About the Washington County Veterans Service Commission transportation program
* The program consists of one paid full-time driver and eight volunteer drivers.
* The program helps approximately 450 veterans reach their medical appointments each year.
* The program logs about 100,000 miles a year.
* With destinations in three states, the veteran transportation program is one of the most extensive in the state.
Former driver Wilbur Spindler, 94, of Marietta brought some of his old baseball caps with him to share with the fellow drivers. One hat depicts the original van that the Veterans Service Commission (VSC) purchased when it began the program around 1991.
"That's where I did my driving in the old van," said Spindler, pointing to the blue van pictured on the hat.
Today the program's drivers - one paid full-time driver and eight volunteers - share four cars provided by the VSC.
Spindler, an Army veteran who was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, was an active volunteer driver from 1995 to around 2003 and recalled joking with the veterans he drove, many of whom were actually younger than him.
"I remember this one fellow was trying to get in the van and groaning. He said 'When you get my age it's a different story.' I asked him how old he was and he said 78. I said 'My gosh. You're just a child,'" he laughed.
Not all of the drivers are servicemen. Marietta resident Dave Waterman, 61, never served in the military but has volunteered as a driver for around two years.
"It's my way of giving back," said Waterman, whose father served in Korea.
Waterman said he enjoys talking with the veterans.
"They're all characters," he said.
Don Young, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, is the one paid driver on staff. Young said he finds the job rewarding.
"You get to not only take your fellow veterans back and forth, there's a lot of fellowship in those six or seven hours," he said.
The dinner in their honor was a nice surprise, said driver Don Burke, 68, of Marietta.
"It's such a nice tribute. It's a very nice thing to do for us and certainly unexpected," said Burke, an Army veteran who served in Vietnam.