O'Fallon Progress

Trip of a lifetime honors O’Fallon veteran

Ron Dormer, one of O’Fallon’s merriest residents as well as one of its hardest working retirees, has always believed in giving back, as exemplified by his lifelong commitment to service.

As part of an Honor Flight on Oct. 1, the retired Chief Master Sergeant officially reaped the rewards of his sense of honor and duty.

During a whirlwind trip to Washington, D.C., Dormer and his daughter Karen joined 58 other veterans and their 58 guardians for a day of thanks and appreciation.

“We were treated like royalty,” Ron Dormer said.

“The greatest day of my life was when I married my wife, Jean,” he said. “Then it was the births of my two daughters, and now this. This was the next greatest day of my life.”

Dormer, 85, joined the Air Force at age 20, after being drafted for the Korean War. He was stationed at Scott Air Force Base twice, then decided to retire here after 27 years in the military in 1981.

An Honor Flight is filled with military veterans treated to a day in the nation’s capital, visiting war memorials. It is through non-profit organizations and the trip is at no cost to veterans.

Dormer said he was contacted by a friend who said he should apply, and so he went through the process and was approved.

Daughter Karen said in the weeks preceding, they had a meet-and-greet, then a meeting for the companions to make sure the events would go smooth.

“Everything is planned out,” she said. “My dad is a ‘people person,’ so he is so excited,” she said beforehand.

During the flight, the veterans were given special bracelets that lit up in remembrance of service men and women who did not make it home.

Another special tradition was the plane was hosed down with water after landing — a symbolic gesture done for the last plane flight for pilots and higher rank officers. After arriving at the Baltimore airport, the veterans were divided onto red, white and blue buses that had a police escort the entire time to maneuver the crowded streets.

Ron noted because the President of Finland was visiting, traffic was interesting and at times, delayed.

Full slate of events, warm welcome home

The Honor Flight attendees watched the changing of the guard and the laying of the wreath at Arlington Cemetery, passed by the Iwo Jima monument, and visited the Korean War/Vietnam War Memorial. After lunch, they visited the Navy Memorial and Museum, World War II memorial and met the Air Force General.

“He shook all our hands,” Dormer said.

When he saw the folding of the flag at one event, “it gave me chills,” he said.

The day itself, Oct. 1, began at 3 a.m., with a trip to the airport, and they would return to St. Louis Lambert Airport at 7:25 p.m., to be welcomed home by family and friends — and more.

Karen said some 600 people were there — military personnel, boy scouts, girl scouts, USO, Honor Flight volunteers, Freedom Riders, bag pipers and entertainment — to end the day.

“It was a very rewarding day,” she said.

“It was so well organized,” Ron said.

He said he enjoyed talking to the others about their experience and memories. It was his fourth trip and Karen’s first trip to D.C.

‘Mail Call’ another trip perk

Another perk of the trip was to encourage a “Mail Call,” which asked people to write letters they could read on the plane on the trip home.

Dormer received more than 75, including artwork from local children, who called him “hero.”

Karen had asked about 30 people, then others joined in to provide written notes and artwork. Ron’s daughter, Denise Dauphin, a special education teacher at Moye School in O’Fallon, had asked her students for input. They crayon-colored greetings for him.

At the First United Methodist Church in O’Fallon, they pair Prime Timers, a club for senior citizens, with children in their preschool, and Ron had Lily as his buddy last year. She drew a picture for “Mr. Ron.” Her mother interpreted it for him, including how she “X’d” out 5 because she was 6 now, and he knew her when she was 5. He smiled broadly.

He also received a coin for the Freedom 1 first flight.

Food was furnished by USO, Dunkin Donuts and Arby’s during the trip so they did not have to stop anywhere.

Ron Dormer said he was stationed at Iwo Jima during the Korean War, where he worked in Air Traffic Control Tower maintenance.

“We had an emergency landing strip,” he said.

After his two-year service ended, he stayed in and was sent to French Morocco, England, Florida, Missouri and Illinois.

He grew up in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, a coal mining region. So did his wife, Jean, who died in 2006. They had been married 46 years. They returned to Pennsylvania after retirement, only to decide O’Fallon was home to them.

In the Air Force, he was a Navigational Aids Technician, which provided equipment for the control tower, giving visual and aural guidance.

Giving back to community and then some

During his retired years, Dorman has become active in volunteerism, primarily the O’Fallon Food Pantry for the past 23 years and at churches Faith Lutheran and First United Methodist.

He’s been honored by the O’Fallon Chamber of Commerce as Volunteer of the Year sometime during the 2000s and by Trivent Financial for Lutherans as the 2003 Fraternalist of the Year.

Karen said her father always felt helping was important.

“He’s always been involved like that, ever since we came back, when I was in high school,” she said.

Ron likes to keep busy but said he feels honored to serve.

“I feel so blessed that I have good health and a good family, and serving in the military, so because I have been so blessed, I like to do things for others,” he said.

“When I was in the military, I felt like I was helping the country. My family has stuck together, we have shared so many wonderful times,” he said.

He also plays Santa Claus for schools, retirement homes such as Cambridge House and the Colonnades, and businesses, including Woods Bakery.

After retiring from the Air Force, he worked for Emerson Electric and in civil service, but when his department was moved to Alabama in 1998, he retired again.

“I was home two weeks, and then my wife got me a job with hospice. I taught volunteers for three years,” he said.

Currently, he works three days a week delivering flowers for La Rosa’s.

All in all, the trip was a special experience, but he repeated how blessed he was in many aspects.

“This meant a lot to me,” he said.