From the commemorative bricks on the Pettis County Courthouse lawn to the honor flights that give armed service members a chance to see their memorials — if it involves veterans in Pettis County, chances are, Vietnam War Army veteran and longtime volunteer Jim Gaertner has a hand in it.
Gaertner, co-chairman of the Central Missouri Veterans Association and Vice President of Show-Me Honor Flight in Sedalia, said he considers the work he does to help his “band of brothers” the fulfillment of a promise that began with his first tour of duty in the 1960s.
“It started in Vietnam after my first tour, when I came home,” he said. “A lot of my friends were killed. A lot of them didn’t come home, but I did. I made a promise to them that I would see that they are remembered.”
Gaertner said he’s also motivated to serve others as a way of honoring God.
“I also do what I do for my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said. “He’s the reason I’m here.”
Gaertner takes the promise he made to his fellow service members very seriously. Whether the task entails raising money for an honor flight or putting on a veterans’ celebration barbecue, his friends and fellow volunteers say he’s an integral part of the work being done for veterans in mid-Missouri.
Emmett Fairfax, Commissioner of the Missouri Veterans Commission and a United States Marine veteran, said Gaertner is a knowledgeable and dedicated part of Show-Me Honor Flight, the organization that transports local veterans of World War II and the Korea and Vietnam wars to see their monuments in Washington, D.C., free of charge.
“I’m proud of him for all he does and the time he takes to do it,” Fairfax said. “He’s a very good servant.”
Pam Burlingame, president of Show-Me Honor Flight, called Gaertner “instrumental” to the Honor Flight organization, saying she could rely on him for everything from raising awareness in Sedalia to helping elderly or disabled veterans up and down the stairs as they traveled to Washington, D.C.
“We love him,” she said. “He’s just a great, great person to have on board.”
In addition to his work with Central Missouri Veterans and Show-Me Honor Flight, Gaertner volunteers as a chaplain for the 40 & 8 veterans organization, visiting sick and dying vets at both Bothwell Regional Health Center and the VA hospital in Columbia. He said he is especially passionate about reaching out to other combat veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder and helping them enhance their quality of life.
“We have things in common, and there’s a strength in part, a measure of healing in unity,” he said. “It’s easier to live with if we band together — band of brothers.”
Gaertner humbly defers any praise of his work to his fellow volunteers, and insists that caring for others is just a job in which all veterans take part.
“We have a great group of veterans who work to put this together,” he said of the eighth annual Veterans’ Appreciation Barbecue held Saturday on the Pettis County Courthouse lawn. “That’s what we vets do — we take care of each other. We did then, and we’ll do it now.”