President of veterans’ service organization to speak at Memorial Day celebration in Dowagiac

Published 9:41 am Wednesday, May 25, 2016

While not a member of the armed services herself, the speaker at this year’s upcoming Memorial Day Parade has impacted the lives of many veterans living across Michigan — including several living in Dowagiac.

Bobbie Bradley, the president of the Talons Out Honor Flight organization, will serve as the program of Monday’s celebration of the veteran-centric holiday. Once again organized by members of the local Masonic Lodge, the Memorial Day event will kick off at 10:30 a.m. in front of city hall with presentations by Bradley and others in the community.

Following the program, a parade will kick off at 11 a.m., with between 30 to 35 units expected to participate, according to organizer Jim Benedix. The procession will march down through Front Street to Division Street, turning onto Riverside Drive toward its destination at the cemetery.

After arriving, members of the local VFW post will host a ceremony honoring the veterans buried at the grounds, with music provided by the Dowagiac school choir and band and members of the Kalamazoo Pipe Band, Benedix said. The ceremony is expected to end by around noon.

Bradley, a native of Ohio and longtime resident of Three Rivers, has served as the president of Talons Out since helping to establish the organization in 2013, she said. The group serves as one of two hubs located in the state of Michigan with the Honor Flight Network, a national organization that provides flights to World War II veterans to Washington D.C., where volunteers guide them on a tour of memorials built in honor of the country’s veterans.

Talons Out has organized six different flights for Michigan veterans since its inception, with each flight funded entirely through donations and sponsorships, Bradley said

“This is a way for our community to come together to honor our vets,” Bradley said. “It’s a way to acknowledge their service. It lets them know that what they did back then still matters to people today.”

Bradley was inspired to form Talons Out after watching a film about Honor Flight, she said.

Part of her passion for the program is inspired by her father, Joe Shibler, an Air Force veteran and participant in the Korean War who died 10 years, Bradley said. Since her father’s death, Bradley has worked to make sure that people connect with the lives of veterans of America’s armed conflicts, especially those of World War II whose numbers are dwindling by the day, she said.

“Every single one of them has an amazing story,” Bradley said. “When you meet with them, their experiences just draw you in…it’s truly life changing.”

A number of Dowagiac veterans have flown with Honor Flight in the past, which is why the city’s Masonic Lodge invited Bradley to serve as the guest speaker of Monday’s ceremony, she said.

During her talk, Bradley will share some of the stories during her trips with veterans visiting Washington on the honor flights, and about why the program is so important, she said.

“When you see the veterans, when you see the tears running down their faces, you can see how much it means to them,” she said. “It’s something they needed. It’s therapeutic for them.”