In their new digs, Joice Bueling is flanked on left by Bill Baker Manager of USO
The Same Old USO? Yes and No
By Lee Ryan
When I think of the USO, I go back to what I remember seeing in the old war movies – dancing, food and fellowship. After talking to Joice Bueling (68) of Normandy Park, I find that some of it hasn’t changed. I ran into her at a garage sale. She was selling her photograph cards to raise money for the USO. Her enthusiasm was so contagious that I was compelled to write about it.
Joice has been a volunteer for USO Northwest, up at SeaTac Airport, since 2005. She and her brother, James, joined together, after their father, Arnold Landerdahl died. He was an Army Chaplain. “We grew up military and when dad died, we decided to meet up and serve, together, and make Dad proud. A year later, my husband Gary joined us”, Joice said.
With almost 2000 hours of service, Joice knows everyone and couldn’t wait to introduce me to Don Leingang, Executive Director of USONW, which covers Washington, Idaho, Oregon and Alaska, and Bill Baker, Manager of USONW at SeaTac Airport.
Joice made me think of an enthusiastic little General, as she proudly marched me around the USO digs. What really excited her was the new location, which is actually the old, original SeaTac Terminal. Joice asked Bill and Don to fill in the details.
“We’re going from 3400 square feet to 7000. However, that means we’re in desperate need of filling that area with new recliners, tables, chair, refrigerators, washers, dryers and bunk beds. Most everything we’ve got is ready to be replaced. It’s going to take almost two million dollars to accomplish. Something exciting is that Boeing is donating the flooring which was the original teak deck from the USS Colorado” Don said. Bill added “We’re totally non-profit with no government funding. The USO started in the community and it still belongs to the community.”
One monumental effort to raise funds is the USO Northwest Five Star Gala on the 7th of September at the Westin in Bellevue. Details can be found at www.usonw.org/gala
As we walked and talked, dozens of young military men, women and their families came in. Joice smiled and said “We offer them a safe harbor, a place they know where they’re welcome and understood. You come to love these young people that come in here. They treat us with the highest respect – so grateful for our few hours of service and yet look what they risk for us.”
Joice added “One thing that I like is that there’s no rank, here – everyone is the same. A General sits right down beside a Private and enjoys a hot dog or tuna fish sandwich and just talks. Where else do you see that?”
Last year, alone, 300 volunteers served 121,000 military men, women and their families. Fifty of those volunteers are from the Highline area. When I asked how the USO has changed, Don shared a tearful story, which is too long to relate, after that he added, “Our mission is to raise morale of America’s military and their families and provide a place to lay-over, sleep, shower, eat and write a letter. Many things haven’t changed, but it’s the simple things that still matter the most”.
“We also have a video camera set up, so that they can read a story to their kids, sing a song or just talk to their family, before they head out. We also serve the Families of the Fallen. Sometimes it’s taking the wives, husbands and children to the gate, so that they can retrieve the remains. The USO is not just about serving sandwiches” Bill shared with a softness in his voice.
When I asked Joice how long she was going to volunteer, she said “As long as this old carcass will allow me”. Somehow that didn’t surprise me. Then Bill offered his personal cell phone number for those who want to give time or donations: (360) 280-8498.
On my long walk back through the airport, I saw yet another military family with a child running beside her daddy – clinging to his leg. I wondered if they’d ever see him again. And I thought, we may not all be able to get our ‘carcasses’ to the USO to volunteer, but the least we can do is volunteer our funds, so that the USO can do the job for us. These are our brave young men and women – heading out to keep our country and freedom safe. We certainly owe them something more than a smile. This carcass signed up as a volunteer.
The USO is still there “’Til they all come home”.
Photo gallery for this story