Veterans’ drivers appreciated

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 an array of 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,” explained Tom Kukulka, coordinator of the transportation program.

The commission wanted to pass that gratitude on to their drivers, and opted for a dinner where current and former drivers could get together to reminisce and share a delicious 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.

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 also 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 very 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.