REAL PEOPLE: Visits work to improve morale
Butch Boettcher holds the position of surgeon at VFW Post 4060 in Union.
“No one had ever done anything with that position,” Boettcher said.
In combat, a surgeon oversees the welfare of the troops. At the VFW, Boettcher has set out to improve the overall moral of veterans.
“I started visitations and these guys all volunteered to help me,” said Boettcher, pointing to a group of men gathered at the Post Acute Rehab Center in La Grande wearing VFW Post 4060 caps and coats.
“We didn’t exactly volunteer,” said Robert Levesque, the senior vice commander of VFW Post 4060. “My arm is still sore.”
These days, Boettcher carries a small journal filled with carefully written notes about veterans in Union and La Grande who are homebound, in care facilities or in rehab. Each week, Boettcher and his group of volunteers visit and bring treats like ice cream.
Today, nearly 15 members of the Union VFW Post gather to help the surgeon with his mission.
“We are the most active post this side of Hood River,” said Don Tusten, who served first as an infantryman, then a tank gunner and commander in Korea and Vietnam.
Service during war has united them. Boettcher was a M-60 machine gunner in the Marine Corps in Vietnam. Gerald Blankenship was a Marine mechanic for single-engine planes that carried 10,000-pound bombs in Korea. Darrel Plank served in the Navy operating salvage and rescue operations in the North Pacific. Joe Hart served three deployments to Vietnam. Bob Moxley served in Vietnam with the 1st Battalion, 9th Marines Regiment, nicknamed “The Walking Dead.”
“Let’s see if we can cheer up some of the old guys in here,” said Wally Rudd.
Rudd was a frogman — a precursor to the Navy Seals — in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945. The frogmen snuck onto islands about one week before the landing troops to blow up obstacles left by the Japanese.
“It was a highly secretive outfit,” Rudd said. “We lost a lot of men.”
As the group congregates, there is no shortage of laughter.
“We get a lot of requests for dancing girls, a bottle of bourbon, or ‘Can you get me out of here?’” said Plank, VFW Post 4060 commander.
One time, a veteran asked the group for a horse and a good saddle — he seemed to be planning his escape.
“They are a lot of fun,” Plank said.
“When he sees us coming, he tries to lock the door,” Levesque said.
Boettcher hopes that other posts and clubs in the area will get involved visiting veterans. According to Boettcher, a person does not need to be a veteran to join the Friday morning visitation crew.
“Anyone that is interested is welcome,” Boettcher said.
To visit veterans with Butch Boettcher join the group at 10 a.m. Friday at the La Grande Post Acute Rehab Center parking lot off Gekeler Lane.