Four local veterans share memories of their lives in uniform.
No matter the branch, local veterans recall their time in the military as Veterans Day approaches. Whether they saw combat or not, their time in the military will always stay with them.
Here, four Longboat Key veterans, two from the Army, one from the Air Force and one from the Navy, share their memories.
Scott Wuesthoff didn’t grow up with a strong desire to fly.
But when he was a sophomore in college, he asked those in an ROTC unit what they did.
They, in turn, asked him if he wanted to fly and be a pilot. He said that sounded like fun. Then they asked if he wanted a scholarship. He said that sounded good, too.
For 28 years, Wuesthoff served in the Air Force. He entered in 1980 and left in 2009. He breaks his duty into thirds. The first third, he flew such large planes as C-5s, and the military versions of Boeing 707s and DC-10s. In the second third, he commanded different sized units, served as a squadron commander and commanded an operations group before moving to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware as a wing commander. He got to Dover six weeks before 9/11.
At the time, he was in command of the largest C-5 base in the Air Force, the same base that is home to Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations. Typically, the remains of service members killed overseas return to the United States via Dover. After 9/11, the fatalities from the Pentagon also were sent there.
“I considered the No. 1 mission was returning our fallen warriors to their loved one in a dignified and expeditious matter,” he said.
In the final third of his career, he was a vice commander of a tanker-airlift control center and worked in allocating different projects in the large aircraft and heavy mobility arena.
To this day, the values of the Air Force — integrity, service before self and excellence in all we do — stick with Wuesthoff.
“I think those are tremendous values, and those are values that I still try to live by, and I would suggest that most current service members and veterans subscribe to those service values,” he said. “And they help guide them for the rest of their lives.”
Recently, while checking out at Home Depot, the cashier thanked Wuesthoff for his service. Without hesitation, Wuesthoff told him it was a phenomenal 28 years that he would do over in a heartbeat.
He said it was a superb experience because of the people and teamwork. It also taught him something that he wishes more people realized – freedom is not free.
“There’s a tremendous price to be paid for the freedoms that we cherish, and so folks might want to cogitate that,” he said.
Craig Meldahl doesn’t remember the reason he chose to go to the Navy in 1965 other than there was a draft.
He went through the physical to see if he could make it into the flight program. He made it and began training in Pensacola in February 1966. Later, he went to Meridian, Miss., where he met his wife.
The two crossed paths at a stop light but didn’t exchange names. The next weekend, Meldahl and his friend saw the same woman leaving a movie theater. They finally exchanged names and began dating. To this day, Meldahl has a photo of his wife, Kathy, sitting on the hood of his 1966 Corvette he bought after receiving his commission as an officer. He said he still has that car and still takes her on dates.
In 1967, Meldahl got his wings and headed to California to learn to fly off fleet carriers. He spent nine months on the Mediterranean Sea on the USS Independence. For his final two years of duty, he was in Kingsville, Texas, in the advanced jet training command teaching new pilots to do air gunnery.
Following his five years of active duty, during which he piloted 100 flights, he stayed in the Navy Reserve for 15 years.
His time in the Mediterranean was during peacetime flying, but they practiced maneuvers with friendly countries. He served during the Vietnam War but was never deployed there. His respect for those who were there, though, soars.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the guys who were on the ground,” he said. “Because we at least got to sleep in a bed every night, coming back aboard the carrier, but these guys that were on the ground … so much respect for them.”
His time in the Navy, and the respect he holds for his fellow service members, made him appreciate the U.S. much more he said.
“My own feeling today is everybody ought to serve,” he said. “I think we would be a better country, and I think people would appreciate what we have here. I’m a great believer in that.”
Andria and Christopher Alger
Christopher Alger never intended to do 20 years of service. He started with his four-year commitment but continued on because he enjoyed what he was doing.
“Before you know it, 20-plus years has gone by,” he said.
His story began when he joined the JROTC in high school. He got his first taste of the military there and then continued with ROTC in college. From the time he was 13, it was part of him.
Christopher Alger served in the Army Medical Service Corps from 1996 to 2017. He specialized in medical logistics where the primary role was to order medical supplies and distribute them to the troops. Christopher Alger began his service in San Antonio and Virginia, then Germany. He repeated this loop twice before reaching his final assignment, at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga., where he was the chief of logistics.
In the Army, Andria Alger’s role was to assist the optometrist in patient care and help with the fabrication of eyewear. Her initial training was in Yorktown, Va., at a naval weapon station, and later, she was stationed in Fort Sam Houston in Texas. She also served in Germany and one year in Iraq. She served from 1998 to 2009.
Andria Alger’s story began after a year in college. Her father had been in the military and one of her sisters is still serving. She said her sister explained to her how awesome it was to serve, and a month later, she was enlisted in the Army.
“It gave me the path I needed to be on,” she said. “It helped me mature a lot. I came from a family of very strong values, but it really helped engrain those values in me. It set me on track where I am very physically fit. I still live those fitness values as well as moral and ethical values.”
The two crossed paths in Germany but didn’t really meet until Andria Alger had been out of the service for two years. Today, they split their time between Florida and Georgia while keeping their military values in mind.
“It pushes you to become a better, stronger person by putting you out in front of something that you may not feel comfortable [doing] at first,” Christopher Alger said.