"We want you to know that we here are grateful … we do value your service, and we thank you," said Valero McKee Refinery Plant Manager Lauren Bird. He was speaking Monday at a reception in the administration building of the refinery for the five veterans that the company is sponsoring on an upcoming Honor Flight to Washington, DC to visit some of the national memorials that have been erected in the capital to honor those who have served and sacrificed in the nation's wars.
Four of those veterans, Bruce Milburn, Allen Dean, George Rogers Jr., and Jimmy Payne, are retirees who spent decades working for Valero. One, Jerry Eads, former United States Marine, "never worked a day of my life at Valero," but he is the father of former long-time employee, Jimmy Eads.
"Jimmy Eads worked out here for many years," said Abby Winegarner, Valero Volunteer Council President. "Sadly he passed away a few years ago. His father and mother are people we love and adore, and they are still a part of the Valero family." Winegarner said Valero had sent one veteran last year on a flight, but this year they wanted to send more. "I think it is really neat to be able to send all five," she said. The flights, organized and carried out by Texas Panhandle Honor Flight, a non-profit organization based in Amarillo, take place once a year.
According to Amy Mc Phearson, who organized the effort, Valero employees, vendors, and contractors raised over $5000 from a silent auction to go towards sending the veterans on their trip. That was enough to pay for three veterans, but five had applied to go, so the company contributed enough money to send the other two. "Just to give something back … what they did for our country, we want to thank them for and honor them," said McPhearson.
"Veterans are not only a part of our past, but we need to make sure they are taken care of in the future. They have sacrificed a lot to serve our country. We are doing this as a thank you," added Winegarner.
The veterans all said they were grateful to be able to go to Washington and see the monuments that hold such special meaning for them. Taking the trip will be the realization of a dream they have had for years. Milburn, a 10 year veteran of the United States Navy who spent a year and a half in Vietnam, said, "I'm looking forward to seeing the Vietnam wall. I have lots of friends and classmates on that wall. I have wanted to go for a long, long time. It means a lot to me."
"It means everything to go see the memorials in Washington," added Payne, who served in the United States Air Force between the Korean and Vietnam Wars. "It is tremendous that I get to go. I thank God and Valero."
For Eads, "It is something I have wanted to do since they started having them(the flights)."
At the reception, with employees and administrators looking on, Winegarner and McPhearson gave each of the veterans a gift of a new piece of luggage for the trip.
Valero has a history of supporting veterans. There is a wall in the administration building of the McKee Refinery that honors veterans who are current employees. The company hosts an annual dinner for them, among other things. In 2018, Valero was named Veteran Friendly Employer of the Year by the Texas Workforce Commission for the company's efforts to recruit and retain veterans.
As reported in the September 4-5 edition of the News-Press, the five veterans sponsored by Valero will join Dumas veteran Doel Cordero, former Dumas resident and veteran Bart Templeton, and veterans from around the Panhandle on a chartered flight leaving Rick Husband Amarillo International Airport on September 12. In Washington, they will visit the memorials to the veterans and fallen from World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Korean War. They will visit the Women in Military Service to America Memorial, the Stephen F. Udvar Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum, and the National Museum of the Marine Corps. They will attend a changing of the guard ceremony and lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns. And, they will visit in the Capital with Congressman Mac Thornberry and his staff. They return to Amarillo September 14 and arrive at the airport at 9:30 pm.
"I am looking forward to it," said Rogers, who served in the United States Army's Berlin Brigade during the Vietnam Era.
"It has been a long time coming, and I figure it is my time, since I paid my dues," said Dean, a United States Army veteran of the Vietnam War.