By Benjamin Kibbey
There are plenty of things people miss under COVID-19 restrictions, but for Gary and Karen Zuber, the thing they miss most is volunteering in the service of military veterans.
“We owe them so much,” Gary Zuber told the Kern Valley Sun. “It’s just a long-overdue ‘thank you,’ especially for our Vietnam veterans.”
The Zubers have volunteered in various ways in recent years, but what has meant the most to them — and where it all started — is the Honor Flight program. Honor Flights transport veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam to see their memorials in Washington, D.C.
“We’ve flown, I think, over 1,200 — maybe even much more than that — veterans from the Kern County area,” Gary said.
Karen said she enjoys the relationships they build.
“It’s getting to know these gentlemen and their stories,” she told the Sun. “It gives them a chance to be recognized as the heroes that they should have been all along — it kind of rejuvenates them.”
Their involvement started with a friend who served as a Guardian on one of the first flights from the Bakersfield area. Gary Zuber experienced health issues, leaving him unable to work and seeking something to give his life purpose. Hearing from their friend about his experience, Gary and Karen volunteered on the second flight out of Kern County.
That experience led to a lot of other volunteer work with local veterans, Gary noted.
“We host a breakfast the second Thursday of every month — or we used to anyway until everything got shut down,” Gary said. He and other volunteers were serving breakfast to approximately 100 veterans monthly at the Kern Valley Veterans of Foreign Wars venue.
The Zubers also help veterans participate in parades and host events such as a potluck that featured U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California). Additionally, they help McCarthy’s office with recording interviews with veterans for the Library of Congress.
Gary said he is grateful for the support they receive from McCarthy, who opens up the Capitol and provides tours for Honor Flight veterans and gives additional support to local veterans whenever he can — such as in helping veterans track down the medals they have earned.
“I just want to give him some recognition for that,” Gary said.
Karen said there are many volunteer opportunities with Honor Flight, both locally and in accompanying veterans to D.C., and she expects that when they start the flights again, there will be plenty of opportunities for anyone who wishes to become involved.