The Berks-Mont News (

WWII Vet regains independence with accessible van

By Jan Sedlacek, Guest Columnist

Monday, August 26, 2013

Independence Day 2013 has left us all in the dust, but not for my father, John Gill, formerly of Summerfield, Elverson.
He is recently a resident of the veterans retirement facility in Spring City, and thanks to the helping hands of Al Brown of Anthony Dodge and the team there, he has regained his own independence.
Brown and owner Anthony D’Ambrosio generously found John a green van with an electric device to lift John’s wheel chair up and into freedom.
John was a Captain and navigator in World War II, flying B17s with the lead pilot in formation over the skies of Europe. He flew 25 missions.
“We used to fly with the protection of the fighter planes,” he recently remembered. “But as they would run low on fuel before we did, they would have to turn back. We were then left in the hands of God and would have to fly under the radar, hoping not to get shot down by Hitler’s air force.
“I remember after returning from a flight mission with an accompanying squadron,” he continued, “our squadron was saddened to learn the other squadron had all been shot down. Eighteen men in all were killed. It was a quiet night in the tents. I was 22 years old.”
Now in his 90s, Gill has lost both his legs to amputation. He and his wife Alma have been able, up until a few years ago, to live independently in an upstairs apartment in my husband and I’s house in Summerfield.
Transferring him from the electric chair on the stairs, Alma would push John out to the car in his wheelchair, where he would transfer into their little gray “Show” and off they would happily go, with Alma driving. As time went on, however, and age crept up, John was admitted to the veterans center and is happy and very well cared for there by an excellent staff.
However, the only way back out into the world was an occasional trip planned by the VA or a trip out on the Rover Bus. The Rover Bus system is much better than not getting out at all, and they try very hard to do the best they can, but sometimes it would take over an hour to get to Exton Mall, only a few miles away, because of all the passengers’ stops along the way. John would be weary from the ride. I was chaperone on all of these excursions, and that’s when I asked Anthony Dodge for help.
“Al, find us our own vehicle to transport my dad,” I pleaded. “We need our independence to travel where and when we want to. We need your help.”
Al went to bat for John, with the blessing of Anthony, and within two weeks found a vehicle in John’s price range, with the much needed lift setup included. Anthony Dodge graciously added two new tires and a fresh set of brakes at no charge to John, to honor the cause. Anthony Dodge took personal interest in this project.
To date, John and Alma have made several trips to Barnes & Noble and the Exton Mall (in only 30 minutes travel time), had picnics at Valley Forge and French Creek, enjoyed hot dogs, John’s favorite, at the food court at the Coventry Mall and more.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts, Al, Anthony and the rest of your sales team at Anthony Dodge, who heroically helped put a smile on the face of a well deserving veteran. They went the extra mile for a man who loves his country and the freedom he fought for in many ways.