Dan Orlowski plans to step into a conversation likely to bring up a few difficult memories, but he’s willing to as a way to connect with other veterans and honor military service members who died in conflicts.
He’s a resident at Revel Spokane, an independent-living community that will bring together a group of its veterans in a moderated, Memorial Day-themed “Vet Connect Curated Conversation,” on Tuesday. Using Facebook Portal, the event is intended to link them to veterans at the company’s Revel Eagle facility in Idaho.
A Vietnam War veteran, Orlowski, 78, served in the U.S. Air Force at that time and for a total of 15 years. Prior to the Air Force, he was in the Marine Corps for five years.
While stationed at Bien Hoa Air Base in Vietnam during 1968-69, the facility came under multiple attacks, he said. Although he didn’t know the few individuals who died during raids, Orlowski knew there was loss of life. He worked as an avionic technician on the planes at the base and was there for about a year.
“Everyone emphasizes about us as heroes and all that, and, to me, we were just survivors,” Orlowski said this week. “It’s more important to honor people who lost their lives there. I honestly can’t go by names. I didn’t lose any close friends per se. But we did lose people over there at Bien Hoa. They shelled the base for pretty much a full year.”
Emotions rose as he described another veteran event he attended a few years ago. “I’d like to mention that I attended an Honor Flight event,” he said. “For any vet, I’d highly recommend that.”
Inland Northwest Honor Flight is a nonprofit organization that takes military veterans to Washington, D.C., to view the memorial for the war the veteran battled in. It started primarily serving World War II veterans but now also takes veterans of the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
Orlowski said he went on the flight two or three years ago from Spokane. Along with seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, he said he was moved by the welcomed responses that the veterans received. “They had a lot of people over there welcoming us back, and that meant a lot because when a lot of us came back (from Vietnam), it wasn’t very good,” he said.
“We went to the wall, and that meant a lot. They had a couple of monuments there honoring different vets. That’s the emphasis. Among the people who served, we’re the lucky ones. We came back home. But the guys who gave it all, they’re the heroes.”
During his time as an infantryman with the Marine Corps, the closest to a conflict then during the early 1960s was the Cuban Missile Crisis, he said. After a switch over to the Air Force, he at first served as military police until he could cross-train to become an avionic technician.
After he retired from military service, Orlowski worked for Boeing for more than 12 years as a quality control inspector before retiring to Spokane with his wife, Diane. “My wife is originally from Spokane, and then my last duty station was Fairchild Air Force Base,” he said. “I’m originally from Buffalo, New York, and I didn’t want to go back there.”
In his retirement, Orlowski stays active with racquetball and cycling. He recently rode 40 miles on his bike, from Argonne to Post Falls and back to the facility on the Centennial Trail. There’s also family here, including Orlowski’s two sons and his wife’s three daughters.
Being somewhat new to Revel Spokane, and with the year of pandemic guidance, he’s only met a couple of other veterans at Revel Spokane, but event organizers are hoping that more former military service members are able to connect on Tuesday.
“We’re hoping for a whole bunch of people, actually, for the event, and we’re organizing that now,” said Anna Havercroft, lifestyle director at Revel Spokane. “We’re going to have it set up in our activity room called the Revel Room.”
“It’s important for people to connect with similar backgrounds and similar service because you never know who you’re going to meet on the other end.” She’ll be the moderator to guide the conversations, with questions to touch on each member’s military service, if they were in any wars or conflicts, how long they served and where, and if on Memorial Day they’re remembering anyone in the military who died while serving.
“We’ll ask about what were their military responsibilities, their best and worst memories, and do they still have friends around from that time, or have they met vets here who served in the same war?” Havercroft said.
Revel spokeswoman Alyssa Lawrence said Revel held a similar veteran event in November involving two of its communities, one in Reno and another in Colorado Springs, and through that, two veterans who’d never met before realized they’d both served at the same time in Japan during WWII.
“Now, those two vets have become friends who regularly chat and have developed a deep friendship,” she said. On Tuesday, any residents at both facilities in Spokane and Boise will be able to watch the event as a way to reflect and celebrate those in their community who served, she said.
“Our goal with these Memorial Day ‘Vet Connect Curated Conversations’ is to have a place where vets – like those at Revel Spokane – can meet fellow vets from a sister Revel community and all share memories to honor their fallen heroes, reflect on their service and ultimately build new friendships and deeper connections.”
“It’s both a moment of reverence and an opportunity to bond and also an opportunity to share cathartic and perhaps hard to revisit memories among fellow heroes,” Lawrence said.
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Spokane7 email newsletter
Get the day’s top entertainment headlines delivered to your inbox every morning.