Former POW highlights hospital foundation gala

Charlie Plumb, a retired naval aviator, compares life's problems to his time as a prisoner.

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WALLA WALLA - The Walla Walla General Hospital Foundation will host its annual fundraising gala Nov. 13 at the Marcus Whitman Hotel & Conference Center .

This year's featured speaker is Charlie Plumb, a decorated naval aviator and former prisoner of war.

Plumb, who retired a captain, was shot down on his 75th mission over Vietnam. He parachuted into enemy hands and spent nearly six years in prison camps.

After being repatriated in 1973, Plumb was awarded the Silver Star, two Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, the Legion of Merit and POW medals.

Instrumental in starting the flight school now known as Top Gun, Plumb continues to be a consultant for the Navy.

The evening will also have a live auction with Gale Crosby of Portland.

Proceeds from the event will be used to support the "Enhancing the Healing Environment" campaign to completely remodel patient rooms in the medical and surgical unit of the hospital.

It's the first push in 30 years to build a capital campaign such as this, noted John Cress, WWGH Foundation director.

From floor to ceiling, patient rooms are being expanded and modernized for the first time since the facility opened in its current location in 1977, he said. Those rooms were modest but accomplished the standard of the day - private and with a view of green space, he said. "Fitting with the era."

Today's medicine means more equipment and patient room size will increase about 50 percent, with no reduction in overall capacity, Cress said. "We're working very hard and it's exciting to roll things out."

He's impressed with the work WWGH is doing, Plumb said from his Southern California home. "I'm proud to support this. It's a great thing for the community."

The message he will bring in his presentation is one of balance, the noted author and speaker said. Using juxtaposition, he'll compare the problems besetting families today with his six years in prison.

The isolation and loneliness he underwent is mirrored today as people struggle with employment and financial pressures, Plumb said. "You can be just as much in prison in your own mind."

He understands how it feels when life makes a U-turn. "I was flying high, flying Navy jets … In 90 seconds my world collapsed. It's not unlike being diagnosed with cancer or someone's spouse tells them they want a divorce."

Adversity, however, "is a terrible thing to waste," Plumb pointed out. "There is some advantages to going through these tough times, there really is a gift inside. I think I am living proof.

"You can emerge from your prison or your challenge a better person with a renewed spirit."

Sheila Hagar can be reached at sheilahagar@wwub.com or 526-8322.

If you go

Tickets for the gala are $80. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to www.wwgh.com/gala or call 509-527-8303.

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