If you’ve ever been to Fort Wayne International Airport when an Honor Flight returns, you’ve probably seen Dottie Mack.
The soon to be 89-year old bundle of enthusiasm sings with the American Legion Band of Fort Wayne and welcomes the heroes home in a way they’ll never forget.
With pride in her voice, she says “I read their name tag and a roar goes up.
They just get overwhelmed that people come.”
She says it’s something deep in her heart that motivates her to go on. “To see people honor the veterans like I honor veterans, it’s wonderful.”
It’s easy to see where that love comes from.
Her father served in World War I.
Her Brothers served in World War II and the Korean War.
It’s been part of her life since she was a little girl selling 10-cent war stamps to support the troops.
Whether it was mowing lawns, babysitting, or volunteering at the Red Cross, Dottie tried to do whatever she could to help.
Mack says it’s how a lot of kids like her grew up. “It was just a natural thing to love the servicemen, but I could never understand why everybody else didn’t.”
Dottie says when her husband came home from World War II, nobody cared. “Nobody met him at the railroad station. He hitchhiked home to New Haven.”
The thought of that happening to another veteran is a big part of what drives her to do what she does today.
Paul B. Mack joined the Navy after the invasion of Pearl Harbor.
He was an Aerial Gunner on the U.S.S. Independence.
The two met at a roller rink.
They were married in 1950.
He was an introvert.
She was an extrovert.
Dottie says it was a match made in Heaven.
They did everything together, including volunteering at the V.A. to help veterans.
When Paul died suddenly of a heart attack 18 year ago, Dottie was in shock.
He had no history of heart problems.
Suddenly alone, she says she didn’t know how to go on without him. “I told my daughters I’m going to wear black until the day I die.”
A counselor told her she needed to find a purpose, but Dottie couldn’t see one.
One day Dottie said something that made her counselor laugh and she says a light bulb went off in her head. “I said to myself, I found my purpose. I want to do something to make people smile and something that Paul can come along with me.”
Since then, there’s been no stopping her.
She still wears nothing but black, but with a guardian angel on her neck and a smile on her face. “He’s with me. He’s with me every day” she says.
Along with her volunteer work and entertaining veterans, Dottie became a Karaoke legend around town.
With Paul right there with her, she connects with people nearly 70 years younger than her. She says if she can touch someone and make them feel better about themselves, her day is made. “My goal is before I leave, that person is going to be smiling.”
But nothing makes her smile more than seeing thousands of people at the airport giving veterans the warm welcome home many of them never had. “It’s just my appreciation for what they do” she says. “I mean it takes an awful lot to give up your life and go do something for someone else.”
Something we all should remember on this Veterans Day, and every day.