Sixty-five years after Jean Marie Eells raised eyebrows by enlisting in the Air Force right out of high school, she and her brother Charles are taking part in the Patriot Flight with other local veterans to the nation’s capital today.
“Flying to D.C. is our primary mission, honoring our veterans is our passion,” reads a statement from Patriot Flight.
A newspaper clipping from June of 1951 announcing Jean Marie Eell’s decision to enlist, reads, “One of the seniors at Hall High School enlisted in the Armed Forces exactly a month before graduation this year — and a girl at that.”
An Air Force aptitude test revealed she had high marks as a mechanic so she was sent to camera repair school in Denver. “I loved it,” she said. “I think it’s the best place I’ve ever lived.” She served a few years in the service and later moved to California, married and had children.
Speaking of her time in the Air Force, she said, “I loved every minute of it. Sure, some of it was a little boring, but some of it was real exciting, too!”
“My stepmother was all upset,” recalled Eells, who is now 83. Having grown up with two brothers and a cousin who she said taught her “a few moves” to defend herself, she was confident she could hold her own.
“I was raised with the two boys. I could do whatever the boys could do. If it was my turn to take out the trash, I took out the trash. If it was the boys’ turn to wash the dishes, they washed dishes,” said Eells.
“We had a pretty progressive family,” Charles chimed in.
Jean and her brothers Gordon, 84, and Charles, 81, all enlisted right out of high school. Gordon now lives in Texas. Jean and Charles, who both served in the Air Force, will be on board the Patriot Flight that takes off today.
The Patriot Flight organizers fly a group of veterans from Albany to Washington, D.C. to see war memorials and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.Veterans and their guardians must apply to be taken on the trip. While veterans travel free of charge, guardians must pay a fee of $350 for the day trip.
Charles Eells spent 32 years in the military before retiring in 1984. “I was in [the service] basically the entire Cold War,” he said. He added that many of the details of his service remain classified, but said he worked in counterintelligence and served in Vietnam and the Philippines. “I was assigned to temporary duty all over the world,” he added.
Eells was assigned as the Air Force representative for investigations and intelligence for the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, as well. By the time he retired, Eells was a chief master sergeant.
Charles Eells recalled flying into Seattle after serving in Vietnam as a low point. “I flew back to Seattle with a full load of Army people who had come right out of combat and got on a plane home. We were all advised on the airplane not to wear our uniforms. That was pretty sick,” said Eells.
Today, he says “Times have changed,” though he’s uncertain how genuine this newfound national pride and support for veterans actually is. “I don’t know about the motivation or whether or not it’s sincere,” he said.
Today, Charles and his wife, Marilyn, have five children, 12 grandchildren and 17 great grandchildren.
Jean Marie Eells has four sons and five grandchildren.
Though they’ve each served all over the globe, Charles and Jean now live next door to each other on the same farm in Clifton Park.