BONHAM — They all willingly chose to enlist in the military for various reasons. They served their country honorably, came home to their families and went about their lives. Today, they reside at Bonham’s Clyde W. Cosper Texas State Veterans Home.
The three men — Franklin R. Brown, Peter Clark and William Arnold Heath III, are part of the 158 member veterans population at the center. The camaraderie they share with their fellow veterans is much like they experienced during their years in the military. Though the rivalries between military branches are far less serious and more good-natured. They share stories, memories and games. They sometimes sit together in silence, offering unspoken support and strength. All three men say they have no regrets about their decision to join the military and, in fact, encourage today’s young people to seriously consider joining as well.
Brown was born in Caddo Mills, not far from Bonham and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at age 17.
“I served four years, 12 days and six hours,” Brown said with a grin. “I wanted some experience and my brother had been in the Army Air Force, so I volunteered and requested electrical school. It was a good choice and I stayed with electrical work after the military.”
The most difficult thing for Brown, who saw no combat, was the discipline required.
“I’d worked construction, in the oil fields and farming,” he said. “I’d been used to blowing up and having a temper, getting things settled that way, so it (the military) was a pretty drastic change, but it worked out good. It teaches you discipline. It teaches you to be on time and it teaches you to stay home at night.”
Brown learned about Clyde Cosper when he was visiting his older sister, Audry Mae Zachary, at the center. Zachary served in the Army during World War II and came to live at Clyde Cosper in her later years. He opted to put in his application to reside there as well, and has done so the last two years.
“Of my eight brothers and sisters, five of us served in the military,” Brown said. “I’ve been at Clyde Cosper for two years and it’s all veterans, so it’s a pretty close organization. It makes a big difference.”
Clark, who is originally from New York state, made a 22-year career out of the Air Force, serving during the Cold War. He, like Brown, enlisted in the air force at age 17, but for somewhat different reasons — he was in love.
“My father was in the import/export business and we lived in Tokyo, Japan, for two years,” Clark said. “I’d met a Japanese girl and we were engaged. I got into the military because I wanted to get married.”
Clark’s career took him across the globe. However, most importantly, it taught him lessons he’s use throughout his life.
“One of the most important things learned in military is discipline,” Clark said. “In fact, that’s why I believe that every teenager should go into some sort of public service like the Peace Corp, Marine Corps, Air Force, Salvation Army or something like the Israelis do.”
Heath, originally of Seminole, Texas, said he knew he was about to be drafted for Vietnam, so he opted to join the Air Force to be a fighter pilot. There was one catch — he was 19 years old and had never been in an airplane. That didn’t phase the young man and he served in the air force for 23 years.
“The first time I flew in a plane was from my induction center in Amarillo to my base at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio,” Heath said.
He hasn’t forgotten his first ride in a jet that he would later pilot.
“It was like a roller coaster ride,” Heath said.
He ended up as a B52 bomber pilot and flew 325 missions in Vietnam, taking off and returning to a Guam airfield.
“The most difficult part of bombing is when they were shooting missiles at us,” Heath said. “They were called SAMS (Surface to Air Missiles). They damaged our aircraft twice and we had to crash land on Guam twice. They tore the engines up and the hydraulics and we couldn’t get the landing gear down. We bellied down twice, but that’s not bad out of 345 missions.”
An automobile wreck ended Heath’s ability to serve as a pilot, but he continued his service to his country, working as an instructor, flight tech and in other areas.
The Clyde Cosper home, like other veterans’ homes, provides a special placed geared specifically for those who have served. Deborah Sees, a registered nurse and the regional clinical consultant working with Clyde Cosper and another veterans home, said she comes from a family of veterans, including her father, husband, brother and son-in-law.
“I have a very dear place in my heart for veterans and a lot of respect for them, so when the opportunity came to serve just this population, it really meant a lot to me,” Sees said. “All the veterans share a love of country and are very proud of what they’ve done. However, many do not want to talk about their experiences, but others very much want to tell you about it … Veterans’ homes are great for the men because they can build the camaraderie, have that connection and talk about it.”
Sees noted that Clyde Cosper takes both male and female veterans, as well as the widows and widowers of veterans, Gold Star parents — parents who have lost a child in military service — and disabled children of veterans.
For Jeff Newman, Clyde Cosper’s administrator and a veteran himself, working at the veterans’ home is right up his alley.
“I served in the United States Marine Corps right after Vietnam and used my veterans benefits to go to college, getting my undergrad degree in social work,” Newman said. “I started out working in nursing homes, and this is the very first veteran’s home I’ve worked at. It is an honor to me to get this job and our staff is honored to serve the veterans too. A large percentage of our employees feel like they are doing something special because many have had family members who are veterans.”
Amanda Gilbreath, the onsite representative for the Texas Veterans Landboard, which helps oversee the Clyde Cosper home, smiles as she walks from veteran to veteran as they go up and down the hallways. Her mother worked for the Veterans Administration, so Gilbreath spent her childhood with veterans. That helped her decide she also wanted to work with seniors, especially veterans, as she’s done for 15 years.
“It’s an honor every day to walk through those front doors, just to be given the opportunity to be part of that veteran’s life,” Gilbreath said. “We appreciate the families sharing their veterans with us and for us to be able to care for them and be a part of their lives and for some, the end of their life. It’s definitely an honor and a privilege to give back just a small amount in comparison to what they’ve given to us.”
Gilbreath said volunteers — individuals, groups and people of all ages — are always welcomed and needed at the home. Those interested in volunteering can call the home at 903-640-8387 and ask for the activity director or go visit at 1300 Seven Oaks Road in Bonham.