On Saturday, March 30, Issaquah resident Lee Anna Hayes and the Issaquah NJROTC surprised World War II veteran Dale Brown with a birthday cake and a clean yard.
Brown sat at his kitchen table with an open booklet of old photographs, sharing war stories. Outside he saw the ROTC team raking leaves and hauling full garbage bags.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Brown said about the team outside his Sammamish house. “I like yard work and I like to keep it spotless and it’s been bugging me.”
Hayes — who is more like family with Brown — said Brown, even at the age of 95, tries to do everything himself. Hayes said he was “resistant” when her family would try to help clean his yard. The Hayes family “adopted” Brown into their family 15 years ago.
Weeks before the surprise, Hayes had already been coordinating with Chief Matthew Spears from the Liberty High School NJROTC.
Spears said they were all in when Hayes contacted them.
“It’s all about service,” he said. “We’re designed as a citizenship development program where it’s not about recruitment… (It’s) designed to take high school students in the enrollment program and make them better citizens when they walk out.”
Eight NJROTC members came to Brown’s house on Saturday, and Spears said it was a way to fulfill community service and a way to honor Brown.
Brown was in the Army for four years. He served from 1941 to 1945 – two years in England and two in mainland Europe.
Reminiscing, Brown told stories that had everyone in the room laughing. Brown was known as the clever solider and the go-to guy. When he wasn’t being a “trouble maker” Brown accomplished a lot.
Brown said he received three Bronze Stars during his time at war. He shot an enemy plane down, “accidentally” captured three S.S. Russian officers, and saved 500 soldiers.
After the war, Brown went on to be a power lineman for nearly 50 years. During his life, Brown enjoyed skiing (until the age of 80), traveling, spending time at his cabin, volunteering at a children’s hospital and working with horses.
“I’ve had an interesting life,” Brown said. “I think that if I had to do it over again, I’d do about the same thing.”
After a few hours of cleaning, the ROTC team and the Hayes family gathered in Brown’s garage to eat pizza and cake. Stories were exchanged and the room was full of life and laughter.
“It makes us happy when we see him happy,” Hayes said. “I wish we would have met [him] earlier because we could have enjoyed each others time a little bit more.”