Retired helicopter pilot Lt. Col. Lee Roberson soared across the Treasure Valley March 23, 2016, his first flight since a rare brain cancer ended his flying career 19 years ago.
Roberson even took the controls as the small plane circled his boyhood home in Wilder several times. From the driveway of the home, Roberson’s mother waved to him just as his grandmother had done decades ago when he was assigned to the Mountain Home Air Force Base and flew regularly over the farmhouse.
“It was great,” said Chelsea Tuttle, Roberson’s daughter who accompanied him. “He stared out, and I think it brought back a lot of memories.”
The flight was made possible through the cooperation of Meridian pilot Scotty Crandlemier, a veteran who is starting an organization called Elevate Our Veterans to honor veterans with free flights, and by St. Luke’s Hospice, which sent along a licensed practical nurse to take care of Roberson’s medical needs.
“I’ve had a dream for a long time,” Crandlemier said. “It is the joy of giving a ride to veterans to thank them for their service. The biggest kick for me is seeing the family get out. This gets them out of their environment. It’s like a visit to a park.”
Elevate Our Veterans is paying it forward one flight at a time, he said.
Roberson is the second Treasure Valley veteran taken up by Crandlemire, who is looking for a sponsor or supporters to help grow Elevate Our Veterans.
Carolyn Roberson, Lee’s wife, said her husband hadn’t been to the family farm in months because his condition prevented them from getting him into the home.
She said when he was first diagnosed with the brain cancer in about 1997, doctors said there was a 5 percent chance of surviving beyond 6 to 18 months. Receiving chemotherapy and radiation helped him beat those odds, but his brain cells are now dying off from the effects of those treatments.
“His ability to fly was taken away from him in the blink on an eye on Memorial Day. That was his life—hunting and piloting,” Carolyn Roberson said. So when the family was approached about the flight, “we jumped at the opportunity.”“It was so cute yesterday,” she said. “He insisted on wearing his flight helmet.”
Sandra Wurdemann works in the Communications and Marketing department at St. Luke's.