Golden moments

Vets humbled by experience at national games, earn medals

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BRIAN WALKER/Press Veterans Tom Alvarez, left, of Coeur d’Alene, and Clarence “Bill” Winter, of Post Falls, were inspired and earned medals at the recent Golden Age Games in St. Louis as members of the Apple Dumpling Gang attached to the V.A. Medical Center in Spokane.

POST FALLS - The biggest rewards veterans Tom Alvarez and Bill Winter received at the recent Golden Age Games weren't the kind that hang around their necks.

They were the ones that tugged at their hearts.

Alvarez and Winter, who are both legally blind, said they were moved by how the veterans who competed in St. Louis were treated and to be in the midst of others who served their country.

"I got choked up during the opening and closing ceremonies," said Winter, an 80-year-old Post Falls man who served as a radarman in the Navy during the Korean War. "They were really nice to the veterans, and we had a great time back there. When we went to restaurants with our shirts, people would say, 'Here comes the Apple Dumpling Gang.'"

That was the team name of Alvarez and Winter, who participated with other vets from the region through the V.A. Medical Center in Spokane.

About 800 veterans from across the country participated in the event sponsored by the Department of Veterans Affairs.

Winter won a gold medal in his division in golf and a silver in bowling.

Alvarez, a 65-year-old from Coeur d'Alene who served as a medic in the Army during the Vietnam War, won the bronze medal in bowling.

"I saw people wearing the insignia I had during Vietnam, but I was so busy that I didn't get a chance to talk to them," Alvarez said. "But this is something I'm going to do again, so maybe I'll see them in Buffalo (New York) at the games next year."

Alvarez called the games "quite the experience." He suffered from coming in contact with Agent Orange, a toxic herbicide that was used to defoliate forests during the war to deprive guerrillas of cover.

Alvarez is completely blind in one eye and had to have a toe amputated due to diabetes, but he was reminded at the games that some other veterans are worse off.

"I was bitter, but going there changed my opinion," he said.

A veteran who is 101 participated.

"It was fun to participate, but it was also fun to watch," Alvarez said. "I was one of the youngest to compete. Many were over 85. Watching the people in wheelchairs compete was great to see. It was an inspiration to see everyone."

Alvarez said it was nice to bowl - a sport he formerly excelled at - and he even played pool.

Winter won his division in golf at an Arnold Palmer-designed course in Illinois despite his clubs getting left at the hotel.

"I had to borrow some clubs," he said. "I was used to my own, but somehow it all worked out fine. I shot the best score of my life. It was a mind-boggling day."

Winter said the warm hospitality - from a motorcycle group helping vets off the bus to the announcements and cheers during the ceremonies to hearing baseball Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith speak at the games - was an amazing experience.

"It was pretty touching," Winter said.

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