Mann-Grandstaff VA Medical Center
USAF Veteran Ready for Mission to Normandy
U.S. Air Force Veteran Jeraldine “Jeri” Cross finished the 7.2-mile course during last week’s Bloomsday Run in Spokane, with a smile and an even bigger goal on the horizon. On June 6, 2014 she will join Veterans, the Presidents of the United States and France, World Leaders, and other U.S. Allies in honoring the 70th anniversary of “D-Day,” the American invasion of Nazi-fortified Normandy, France.
Jeri’s military service ended in 1961, but she continues to carry out the mission of an elite unit that was disbanded that same year. Back then, the Air Force didn’t issue Jeri a weapon, they gave her a saxophone.
A former Air Force Non-Commissioned Officer, Jeri Cross remains a proud member of the Women of the Air Force (WAF) Band. She and several former members of the WAF Band will perform in the D-Day 70th Memorial Wind Band on the bluff’s overlooking Omaha Beach, and the whole world will be watching.
Normandy, France will host thousands on “D-Day” this year. But it’s not the first time. On June 6, 1944, 50-miles of fortified beach were overcome by 160,000 brave and fearless U.S. and Allied troops, aboard 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft. The real-life history is best portrayed in the gut-wrenching scenes of two Hollywood classics, “The Longest Day” in 1962 and “Saving Private Ryan” in 1998. But a generation earlier in 1944, the real life beachhead landing claimed thousands of American and allied troops. Still, wave after wave of soldiers relentlessly attacked the Germans, starting the world’s largest invasion to liberate France and march across Western Europe to defeat Hitler and Nazi Germany.
“I’m very excited about going, we all are,” she smiled, knowing it will also be bittersweet. She’s never been to America’s first cemetery on European soil, where 70 years later, 9,387 Americans are forever remembered… and revered.
Jeri had no idea this honor would come her way more than 50 years after performing hundreds of shows around the country and in Puerto Rico. The WAF Band mission ended because of military budget cuts.
“We were performing an important mission of public relations, recruiting, entertaining, and honoring military leadership and the Armed Forces. I still get goose bumps thinking about it because we had the best of it all,” she smiled.
Following a 35-year career as a Clinical Laboratory Scientist at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Jeri attended a WAF annual reunion. They were in San Antonio, Texas and she recalls one of the band members striking up the Air Force Hymn. Soon others joined in. “That moment brought tears to our eyes,” she said. It was 17 years ago, and the group has been meeting annually ever since to relive the proud moments of serving in the WAF Band. “We play for Veterans and staff at VA Medical Centers, Community Groups, and large civic events, whichever city our reunion is being held. It’s a magical time for us and the audiences who appreciate music combined with history.”
Seeing old friends and meeting other WAF Band Alumni inspired Jeri to come back home and enroll in music at Spokane Falls Community College to brush up and regain her passion to play. She jokes about loving the saxophone a little more than the clarinet, but she still practices both and plays locally. Jeri is part of the “Avalon Dance Band” in Spokane.
Bloomsday, music, and working outdoors at her cabin help Jeri remain in shape. She’s also been enrolled in VA Health Care for the past 7 years. “I enrolled in the VA because it’s never too late and you might need it later,” she said. “The VA serves me very well.”
Prior to leaving for Omaha Beach at Normandy, Jeri will perform during Memorial Day services at the Eastern Washington Veterans Cemetery in Medical Lake at 10:30 a.m. with the Project Joy Orchestra. As for future WAF Band reunions, Jeri admits Spokane is a military town and would be a great place to showcase music and history, and enjoy this beautiful area she calls home.
For now, her sights are set on two military milestones that will forever be a part of American and World History every year, Memorial Day and the June 6, 1944 Anniversary of “D-Day.”