ORLEANS — For Charlie McFarlane, the senior center is a good place to visit. The Air Force veteran, who's 86, started coming to a chair fitness class several years ago and now regularly attends Day Center programs.
“I haven't met a soul that wasn't a nice person,” said McFarlane. “What's interesting about this place is that it's like someone's standing at the front door saying, 'Come in.'”
On Nov. 7 at 11 a.m., McFarlane will be among the service veterans who attend the Day Center to be honored at a Veterans Day luncheon open to the public.
“We wanted to do something special here to recognize veterans,” Karen Spangler, program coordinator for the senior center, told McFarlane and his wife, Sue, during a joint interview with The Chronicle last week. “We have so many of you that come to our day center who are all veterans, seven or eight of you.”
“I think the programs they have are excellent,” McFarlane said of the Day Center, “the guests that come in to speak. It all just makes for a very nice afternoon or so. The staff is excellent.” Favorite events include visits with therapy dogs, a “hands-on” arts program and drumming sessions.
McFarlane enjoys the conversation among his fellow veterans. He says they talk about current events and about their service in uniform.
“The service is an interesting situation,” he said. “It crawls into your head and stays there. It doesn't escape, and when somebody comes up and says, 'I was there,' your memory snaps back and you start to remember things.”
McFarlane was a technician who worked on B36 jets in Texas.
“They flew with bombs in them to scare the hell out of the Russians,” he recalled, “across the U.S., over Canada and almost all the way up to the Arctic Circle.” The Russians would pick them up on radar and send jets up to meet them and “we ran them out of fuel,” McFarlane said with a twinkle.
The veteran remembers having to wait by the planes while they were being loaded, sometimes for an hour or more. “I was sitting there drinking a cup of coffee and leaning against a bomb,” McFarlane said. “It finally occurred to me that if that thing went off, I'd be vaporized. Every once in a while, that crosses back into my head.”
For McFarlane, “the Air Force was a wonderful organization that helped me get into college. If they had needed me, I probably would have gone back in.”
“My son is a Naval officer,” Sue McFarlane said. “I think Charlie had a lot to do in encouraging him.”
McFarlane would like to encourage other veterans to use the senior center and its Day Center programs. “Come with me some afternoon,” he said, “and we'll sit down and go through it. You'll get a lot of new friends out of it and a lot of information out of it that you can use through your life.”
“The camaraderie among the guys you are with is really a pleasure for the staff to watch,” said Spangler.
The Nov. 7 Veterans Day luncheon at the senior center will begin at 11 a.m. with a pinning ceremony for McFarlane and his comrades who attend the Day Center, followed by remarks from state Rep. Sarah Peake. Heroes in Transition, the program that helps veterans return to civilian life, will make a presentation.
“People will have the opportunity to name folks dear to them who are veterans,” Spangler said. Lunch will be served at noon. The program is free, but registration is requested; call 508-255-6333.