Senior Page: Retirement Means Giving Back For Orleans Brigadier General

By: Debra Lawless

Topics: Aging

Brigadier General Jimmy Gordon Dishner, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), of Orleans. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO

Brigadier General Jimmy Gordon Dishner, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), of Orleans goes by “Jimmy” much like another famous Jimmy, President Jimmy Carter.

The plaques and commendations on what he jokingly dubs his “I love me” wall in his home all say “Jimmy,” as do his Virginia birth certificate and his Massachusetts driver’s license.

Yet when he goes for his morning take-out coffee at the Hot Chocolate Sparrow near his home, one of the baristas invariably shouts out, “General!”

“And of course, everyone wants to see a general,” Dishner says, laughing. He asks them: “Why don’t you just say ‘Jimmy?’ And they say, ‘but I don’t know any other general.’”

Dishner retired to Orleans after a distinguished 41-year career in the military. For about a decade the Dishners vacationed in Eastham. The couple bought their house in South Orleans in 2001. For two years Dishner commuted to the Pentagon; in 2003 he retired and settled into Orleans full-time.

“My wonderful wife supported that,” Dishner says, referring to his career. Linda Dishner passed away just before Christmas after a long illness. Dishner has two children, Jeffrey Dishner and Cheryl Bardetti, and four grandchildren.

Dishner graduated from the Citadel in South Carolina and later earned an engineering degree at Texas A&M University. Through the years he served in California, Texas, Vietnam and, for many years, at the Pentagon. After retiring from the Air Force, Dishner became a deputy assistant secretary at the Pentagon. “You take off your uniform and wear a suit and become a federal employee,” he says. He traveled to various military bases, looking for “adherence to policy.” For example, were the bases being built as specified?

The Dishners lived in a townhouse in Arlington, and Dishner walked to work—an 11-minute trip.

And yes, Dishner was at his desk in the Pentagon that terrible morning 17 years ago: Sept. 11, 2001. His executive secretary, “a West Point guy,” told him to turn on the TV. It was after 8:46 a.m., and the North Tower of the World Trade Center had just been hit by a jet. Officials and the media were “just putting two and two together;” that was before the South Tower was hit at 9:03 a.m. Dishner turned the sound off on the TV and went back to work. Then, shortly after 9:37, an alarm went off in the Pentagon. Dishner did not yet know it, but Flight 77 had just crashed into the western side of the building, killing 125 people inside as well as the 59 people on the airplane. Dishner and his 12-member staff exited the building through its east side. When they rounded the end of the building they saw flames. The group walked to Dishner’s townhouse where they turned on the TV and began to learn what was happening.

One thing that struck Dishner that morning was the silence in the streets after traffic had been halted. From the window of his 18th floor townhouse, Dishner viewed “millions of people walking slowly” on I-95, which was closed to traffic.

“Thank God I didn’t lose any of my people,” Dishner says.

Two years later Dishner retired, and it was then that he got busy in the community.

“It’s really great to spend some of your time with people that you served with—or maybe you didn’t—that need help,” Dishner says. “I feel like I owe everyone that served. I can’t do that except locally.”

Dishner serves on the board of the Cape and Islands Veterans Outreach Center in Hyannis. There he works with veterans with PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI). The group aims to build veterans’ homes in each of the Cape’s 15 towns and it is now raising funds for the first home, a five-person house in Dennis.

“I feel good doing that,” he says. “I’m just trying to give back.”

He served on the board of the Cape Cod Council of Churches for eight years, and also on the Board of the Lower Cape Outreach Council in Orleans. He joined the Federated Church, which “is really important to me.” For a time he sang in the church choir and has served on the church’s board of trustees.

Last winter Dishner went on a trip with his son Jeffrey while his daughter Cheryl Bardetti and his daughter-in-law Cathy Dishner moved him into his new home. The pair created the “I love me” wall which is a display of awards, medals and commendations given to Dishner over the years. Dishner’s awards include the Distinguished Service Medal, the Legion of Merit, the Bronze Star, the Presidential Meritorious Executive Service Award and more. President Bill Clinton sent a signed letter on the occasion of Dishner’s 80th birthday last year.

In July Dishner visited his son’s family in Jackson Hole, Wyo. While there, he wrote up a bucket list. He soon plans to “slowly drive to places that Linda and I lived,” he says. On the list are New Jersey, Georgia and Pensacola, Fla., where his sister Nancy lives. Next year Dishner plans to travel outside the U.S.

“I’m just going to take it easy,” he says. “Everyone says, ‘well, good for you.’”