COEUR d’ALENE — Strong winds buffeted the steely waters off Independence Point Saturday morning as retired Col. Bruce Lauderdale took off in a seaplane.
Lauderdale, 88, didn’t know who would be at the dock waiting for his return.
Gathered on the dock were more than 30 members of his family — adult children, grandkids and great-grandkids — as well as a group of airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base who had come to honor him.
Lauderdale is a former commander of the Air National Guard’s 141st Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild.
Unbeknownst to him at first, Saturday was Lauderdale’s “fini flight,” a tradition where aircrew members are hosed down with water by their peers, family and friends upon the competition of their final flight at their unit or retirement.
Shelly Love said the flight was the perfect surprise for her dad.
“He loved the Air Force,” she said.
Family traveled from as far as Hawaii to take part in the special day.
“He didn’t realize all the kids would be here,” Love said.
Cheers erupted from the gathered family and airmen when Lauderdale returned from his flight. Beaming, he passed under an arch of spraying water.
“Go, grandpa!” shouted a grandson, setting off another round of applause.
Lauderdale was soon surrounded by family, who took turns embracing him.
The flight was great, Lauderdale said.
“I can’t believe all the hoopla,” he said with a smile.
Sara Jane Ruggles, a public historian for Auburn Crest Hospice, coordinated the event. Plans came together quickly, she said, with Auburn Crest staff and Fairchild personnel working in tandem to make the special day possible.
“It’s been beautiful,” she said.
Col. Greg Nolting is the sitting Commander of the 141st Air Refueling Wing. He presented Lauderdale with a challenge coin bearing the motto, “Ready to Serve Neighbor and Nation.”
He also gave Lauderdale a patch featuring an ace of spades with a dagger driven through the center. It’s the insignia for 116th Air Refueling Squadron, which Nolting said shares a rich history with the 141st.
“When he saw the ace of spades, it put a smile on his face,” Nolting said.
For Nolting and his fellow airmen, it was a privilege to recognize Lauderdale and his service.
“It’s an absolute honor to be with this family and celebrate,” Nolting said.