DENVER — Last month, we introduced you to 99-year-old Ray Burns, our September Hero of the Month veteran, who looks and acts more like he is in his 70s.
Burns, who lives in Stapleton, still drives and exercises daily.
While that was enough to shock many of our viewers, there was one woman watching in Broomfield whose shock presented itself in a whole different kind of way.
Judy Waligorski happened to have her TV on when our story aired, and looked up just at the right time. She saw a photo of Burns that also included her father, Col. Stanley J. Alkonis.
“So, we saw that photo, and I’m thinking, ‘Woah…that’s my dad! That’s my photo!'” Waligorski said.
Chance had Burns and Waligorski living 10 miles from one another. While Waligorski’s father, Burns’ old colonel, passed more than a decade ago, we knew we had to make this meeting happen.
“Have a chair here, just talk, and find out what happened to my colonel,” Burns said.
Within minutes, the hands of time turned back.
“I dug through my files and I found some correspondence that he signed… and here’s a letter he sent to my wife,” Burns said.
The year was 1965: the year of “Dr. Zhivago,” Ed Sullivan…and the Supremes. Burns’ letter took us to a Christmas party on the airbase.
“It’s directed to Ms. Ray Burns, Vandenburg Airforce Base, California… ‘I wish to extend my sincere thanks to you for your efforts on the 17th of December, 1965 in making the airmen’s annual Christmas buffet party such a tremendous success… The party was able to be performed only because of the baking, cooking, carving and serving preparations performed by the ladies… May you and your family have a happy and prosperous new year! Sincerely, Stanley J. Alkonis’,” Waligorski read.
There were many letters. One of them protested a request to transfer Burns to another program.
“’His loss would seriously impair the operation of a branch…I do not agree’,” Waligorski read. “That sounds like my Dad.”
They are letters that are now archives of history. After Burns showed his last keepsake, it was time for Waligorski to share hers.
“So, this is the photo that started this whole thing,” Waligorski laughed.
It was a photo she knew well. In fact, growing up, the photo sat framed in her family room. Half a century later, the photos likely printed from the same military printer sat side by side once again.
Burns also got caught up on his colonel’s life… up until the very end.
Like so many who cope with grief, Waligorski says in the decade her father’s been gone, she’s often wished for one more day. A day she serendipitously was granted.
“It’s kind of like having him here,” Waligorski said.
We are very proud to tell you that Col. Stanley J. Alkonis is our October Hero of the Month, recognized posthumously. In his honor, Judy Waligorski received a $750 Visa gift card thanks to our sponsors Rocky Mountain Honda dealers, the Leo Hill Charitable Trust and the Colorado Veteran’s Project.
To nominate a veteran, active duty service member, volunteer or family member for our Hero of the Month honors, submit a nomination online.