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Defending their country

Devonshire neighbors share stories of service

Created date

November 23rd, 2015
Devonshire residents with service- or war-related stories to tell.
Devonshire residents

When people move to Devonshire at PGA National, Erickson Living’s life care retirement community in Palm Beach Gardens, they’re gathered into its large extended family of talented and accomplished residents and attentive staff. 

Over cocktails in Devonshire’s Churchill Lounge and dinners in Devonshire’s five distinct clubhouse restaurants, neighbors share their stories and form strong friendships. 

With Veterans Day so recently passed, here are some snippets of residents’ service- and war-related stories. 

David Rollason

David Rollason’s two-year stint in the Army Air Corps began at age 18 when he trained as a navigator on a B-25 twin-engine bomber to fly low-level support during the invasion of Japan. 

The plane had a cannon mounted in its nose, and it was the navigator’s job to lower the cannon into firing position.

David didn’t look forward to doing that, and thankfully, he didn’t have to because he never left the States.

“I was just a kid who wanted to defend our country,” he says. “I welcomed that opportunity, scary though it was. Devonshire’s observance lets me honor my neighbors who were in combat.”

Dorothy Blank

Dorothy Blank was a clerical worker at the Modification Center of North American Aviation in Kansas City, Kans., during WWII. The center modified planes for the war effort.

In 1943, Dorothy received a War Effort Award in recognition of four weeks’ continuous work attendance and for regularly subscribing to Victory Bonds on the payroll deduction plan. 

The award gave her the honor of naming a North American B-25 Mitchell bomber. Dorothy saw the plane, and yes, it bore her nickname, “Dart.”

Bobbi Rees

Bobbi Rees, who grew up in England, spent WWII in London. Required at age 18 to perform war service, Bobbi worked for two years at Charing Cross Hospital. Then she became a Red Cross Naval Nurse.

She was posted in Dartford, Kent, in a hospital converted from a WWI prison for German POWs. Bobbi lived on the premises and performed basic nursing duties. 

Because she survived the Blitz, “On Veterans Day, my thoughts go back to the bombs and where they landed,” Bobbi says. 

Wayne Pierson

Wayne Pierson’s military career gave him unexpected opportunities and shaped his life. 

It began at age 17 ½ when his mother signed for him to join the Air Force. That four-year commitment turned into a 21-year career. 

Wayne was stationed mainly stateside, but also in Newfoundland, Puerto Rico, and the Azores. Along the way, he earned a commission through Officer Candidates School and a business degree through the GI Bill.

“I was an accounting clerk when I enlisted,” Wayne says. “I was an Air Force major and a base controller when I retired.” He ended his post-military career as the chief financial officer for Florida’s board of education.

“The Veterans Day observance makes me proud,” he says. “Anyone who served should be proud.” 

Bill Withers 

Although his dad was career Army, Bill Withers joined the Air Force and became a B-29 and B-50 pilot. 

When the Korean War began, he was in navigator training and then observer training for the B-47. The B-47 carried a three-man crew including an observer who combined the skills of a navigator and radar operator.

So when Bill completed his training, he was not only qualified as a backup observer should that crewman became incapacitated, but he became a B-47 pilot.  

Bill completed observer training just before the Korean ceasefire was signed, so he didn’t serve overseas.

“On Veterans Day, it’s important for people who served to receive recognition,” he says. And he notes the personal aspect of the observance: “For everyone who serves [overseas], there’s a family left behind.” 

Sol Ellman

Sol Ellman’s three-year Army service began after college. Assigned to the Signal Corps during WWII, he and three other soldiers were sent to central China where the Navy was training villagers to set up and take readings from weather balloons. 

The Japanese occasionally dropped bombs in the area, but Sol never saw actual combat.

“My job was to work with the Chinese, encode their readings, and transmit them to the Navy,” he says. The Navy then relayed the weather information to its ships in the Pacific.

Sol was impressed that the Navy had created such a program to help with their efforts in the war against Japan.

During its time in the village, his group met two German Lutheran missionaries. “Here we were fighting Germans and these missionaries invited us to lunch,” he says. “We were in the middle of China away from the war in Europe and were just people encountering people.” 

This Nov. 11, Devonshire’s Veterans Day observance featured a musical program and a display of veterans’ military photos with their service affiliations.

Sol says the day grows more significant for him each year.

“You perceive the meaning of what you did then and what is happening today and [realize] you contributed something in the course of your life in service to your country,” he says. “Devonhshire goes out of its way to make it a special day for us.”