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We are remembering with great fondness Wheelchair Foundation President, David Behring’s trip-of-a-lifetime, the opportunity to join a group of volunteers and chaperone a Veteran on an Honor Flight to Washington, D. C. to see the memorials built in honor of their service and sacrifice in support of democracy.

~ by David Behring

Over the years the Wheelchair Foundation has furnished wheelchairs to Honor Flight Network chapters throughout the country. This non-profit organization’s mission is to provide all-expense-paid trips for World War II veterans back to Washington, D.C so that they can visit their memorial along with Arlington Cemetery and other memorials related to military service.

Every veteran is assigned a guardian to assist him or her on the trip. Since most of these veterans are at least 90 years old, the wheelchair makes it much easier to both rest and be pushed by the guardian. A “wheelchair brigade” of volunteers would file out first from the bus at each stop and set up the wheelchairs. It ran very efficiently and the veterans greatly appreciated the convenience. It was quite a sight to see our group of 26 veterans in red shirts and jackets in red wheelchairs against the background of the white WWII Memorial.

In September I had the honor and privilege to be a guardian on Bay Area Honor Flight #4 and accompany Frank Carli, a Navy Seabee who spent time at Pearl Harbor and Iwo Jima.

As an ardent student of WWII history, I loved meeting and talking to these men and women who helped save the world from tyranny. From the time we left San Francisco very, very early on a Thursday morning to our return on Saturday night, the patriotism and support from people was unbelievable.

Large crowds greeted us at the airports with flags, banners, and cheering. School kids would gather around the veterans and want their pictures taken. A police escort accompanied our bus during the entire trip.

One of the most poignant parts of our Honor Flight was V (for Victory) Mail Night when they received mail from their family members and friends as well as letters of gratitude from strangers such as students, Boy Scouts, and young veterans. One could not help but get emotional watching these veterans carefully read a dozen or so letters of appreciation. Many of the veterans re-read those letters on the flight home.

I am glad that we were able to play a small role in making the trip easier for these courageous and patriotic men and women who served our country so well 70 years ago. As Frank told me at the end of the trip, “I cannot begin to tell you how unbelievable and emotional this trip has been. Being with the guys, hearing the cheers, walking the memorials – the experience was far beyond anything I expected.”

During this pandemic, we continue to be inspired by the determination of our amazing partners and donors that have made it their mission to continue alongside ours and provide mobility to individuals that need it but may not have the means to attain it. Below is a story from Glen Mather from Chair The Love, one of our partner organizations out of Florida that recalls their recent distribution to Mexico and not just the struggles they were faced with but the blessings they were given.

youngboyinwheelchairAmeca, Mexico

“Our plan started with 22 donors traveling to Guadalajara, Mexico to distribute 280 wheelchairs in the surrounding area.  Due to the ravages and fear of Covid-19, our traveling group narrowed to nine.  After checking the infection rates, and realizing that their state of Jalisco had half the rate of infections than did our home state of Florida – we decided to go ahead.

The blessing of giving was never more apparent than the experience of our trip to central Mexico.  We had never delivered to this area of the country, so everything was a new experience to the Rotarians that helped arrange for the logistics and locate the neediest recipients.  What transpired was one of the most impactful distributions of the dozen or more I have been a part of.

Our hosts obsessed with our comfort and were anxious that we were able to experience what their region had to offer.  Cathedrals dating from the 1500s, colonial cities, lakeside towns, and modern skyscrapers, and an amazing Mariachi band were all part of our visit, but the central point, as always, were the distributions.  They provided a luxurious motor coach to make the hours upon hours of traveling the most comfortable possible.

Five separate distributions spread over three days provided an incredibly emotional experience.  The youngest recipient was three, and the oldest was Margarita at 101.  The eldest asked if we could come to her home, as she now could make fresh tortillas for us, now she had her first wheelchair.

In the agricultural town of Ameca, we met Angel, a young man of 32 years old.  He stood out for a couple of reasons – his “Iron Maiden” Tee shirt, a plethora of tattoos, and infectious energy.  He had lost his legs in a motorcycle accident six months earlier, and Chair the Love and the Wheelchair Foundation provided him his first wheels since that day.  He now saw his life-changing in an incredible way.  He could return to work, hang out with his friends, and be part of the community.   His wife, a beautiful lady with a smile almost as big as Angel’s, was so happy that she would be freed up from worrying about getting him to the doctor and out of the house.

In Ajijic, a magical town on Lake Chapala, Jalisco, a twenty-two-year-old who lost a leg to diabetes, started popping wheelies a few minutes after being seated in his new red chair, and his wife commented that they now could go dancing together!

When we stood at our final event, facing 86 wonderful people, the attendees were asked to stand when possible, for the playing of the Mexican national anthem – my most emotional moment happened.  There on the front row was an 82-year-old man, whose legs had had multiple surgeries – pushing against the armrests of his new chair, struggling to stand.  With help from his daughter, he rose, and stood ram-rod straight and proud, with tears streaming down his face, hand on his heart.

This was followed by the singing of the US Anthem – with only nine of us to fill the large gymnasium with joy in our hearts.  It never sounded or felt better, or more right.  Two countries, both geographically in North America – united in a way that politics could never accomplish, joined together with love and thankfulness that will never be forgotten.  God indeed blessed America this weekend – both the US and Mexico.

I cannot thank enough the hundreds of donors that made this trip possible and would encourage each of you to find your own way to give the gift of mobility.  I hope that at least once, you can come with us on a future distribution trip to feel the emotions of what your gift means to the entire family.  In their own words, “muchas gracias con todo nuestro corazon”.”

Back To Vietnam

Dear Friends,

One year ago I joined a group of our Vietnam Veterans on a wheelchair trip to Vietnam where I saw old adversaries become new friends and that simple acts of kindness make the world a better place for both the givers and receivers. Let’s keep these thoughts in mind as we enter the holiday season. Below are a couple of brief recollections from that trip from two Veterans that traveled with us, Joe Callaway and Gary Pforr.

Joseph Callaway entered the army as a private in 1965 and, after being commissioned as an officer through Infantry OCS (Officer Candidate School), served in Vietnam from December 1966 until July 1968 as an infantry platoon leader with the 9th Division, a combat advisor to the first Thai regiment deployed to Vietnam, and as a staff officer with the 5th Special Forces. Joe is also a member of the Vietnam Veterans of Diablo Valley, and his peers supported him in his decision to return to Vietnam 54 years later.

Joe recalls his evening in Hue,

“Particular noteworthy was the fabulously memorable dinner we had with about 20 former NVA (North Vietnamese Army) soldiers that started solemn and stiff but evolved (after voluminous beer consumption) into riotous revelry! Singing, beer can crushing, handshaking, and hugging between soldiers who once wanted to kill one another. Most poignant, but memorable, was when one former NVA soldier told one of our group, ‘I’m glad I didn’t kill you.’ Our member responded, ‘I’m also glad you didn’t kill me.’”

Dinner with NVA Vets in Hue City

Gary Pforr, another VVDV member traveling with the group observed,

“Participation in the distribution of wheelchairs by the Wheelchair Foundation was the most emotionally moving experience of our journey. Despite Vietnam’s widespread economic development and improved standard of living for most, it’s evident that many physically and mentally disabled persons, along with their parental caregivers, have been left behind and live in poverty. Some middle-aged parents transported their adult children to the distribution events literally on their backs. The appreciation and gratefulness they expressed after receiving their wheelchairs were emotionally heart wrenching.”

Thank you for your support and for making us better global ambassadors,

David Behring
President

Dear Friends,

I just turned 65 and applied for Medicare. Fortunately, I have been in excellent health and have never spent a night in the hospital or needed surgery. Most of my friends are also active and healthy. I grew up adjacent to a large retirement community where the “active adults” played shuffleboard and bingo instead of the biking, hiking and skiing that we do. Our Baby Boomer generation, along with the Greatest Generation, has created exponential growth in the “65 and over” age bracket, 55 million Americans, and nearly two billion seniors worldwide.

Our elders are living longer and their sheer numbers will create a much greater demand for mobility assistance devices like wheelchairs. Many who need one, will not be able to afford one. In addition to neurological conditions like strokes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, and post-polio syndrome, they will be heavily impacted by orthopedic ailments such as arthritis and diabetes amputations. Knees and hips will also be wearing out – even for people that were superb athletes in their youth – as was the case with my father who needed a walker and cart the last 7 years of his life.

Of the almost 40,000 wheelchairs we have given out to people in the United States, over two-thirds were given to people in this age category. The Wheelchair Foundation has worked with all types of veteran groups including hospitals, Veteran Centers, Honor Flights, and outpatient clinics. One of my greatest honors was to accompany 25 WWII Veterans in our red wheelchairs back to Washington, DC. We have also distributed thousands of wheelchairs to Independent Living Centers across the country and replaced the wheelchairs for many of the elderly who lost their wheelchairs during Hurricane Katrina.

The provision of the wheelchair is a very effective way to alleviate the impact of any mobility limitations for my “new” group. Let’s work together this holiday season to increase their independence, improve their daily living, and lower their probability of placement into a long-term care facility.

Choose the gift of mobility this holiday season by dedicating gifts to your friends and family and sponsoring wheelchairs in the name, honor, or memory of someone you love. For your donation of $150, you will receive a beautiful presentation folder with a photo of a recipient, and a personalized certificate thanking or honoring that special person in your life.

Donations in any dollar amount help change the lives of those who are less fortunate and in need of mobility.

With your gift of $100 or more, we will send you a candy apple red triple-function pen with flashlight and stylus along with our 3-Ply cotton, reusable face mask to remind you throughout the year of your generous donation.

As an additional token of our appreciation, with your donation of $500 or more, we will include our multi-functional aromatherapy UVC sterilizing box.

No shopping, wrapping, or shipping! Simply call us directly at 877.378.3839, donate online through our website (WheelchairFoundation.org), or use the enclosed envelope to donate by mail. Please make your donations by December 10th to allow sufficient time for us to prepare and mail your customized presentation folders.

We at the Wheelchair Foundation are exceedingly grateful for your decision to provide the gift of mobility and allow us to continue the mission of reaching those in need of mobility around the world. Thank you for your generous support of those who are less fortunate than we are.

Sincerely,

Happy Holidays!

David E. Behring
President

Rotary - Monterrey MX 2020

In the last week of February, earlier this year, we returned to Monterrey, Mexico, for a wheelchair distribution and other “hands-on” community service.  On Friday, we painted a Senior Center for Alzheimer’s patients (“celery white” was the color they chose), planted five trees, and presented three people with wheelchairs. One of them was a polio survivor, which made the day even more powerful.  Because of the efforts of Rotary, and the Gates Foundation, we don’t really see any young people with polio anymore, and most people today don’t realize how devastating disease this was a half-century ago.

Along with about 20 other Rotarians from Northern California, we interacted with Rotarians from many of the Monterrey area’s 18 Rotary Clubs.  Their hospitality is legendary and it was so fun to look at their projects and enjoy Members Night Out dinners (including a restaurant known for its goat or “Cabrito” dishes) as we continue the “Amigos Para Siempre”, “Friends Forever” philosophy we adopted 17-years-ago with the Monterrey Rotarians.  It has been so rewarding for us to partner on so many projects.