Barbara Folk and Sally Manning evacuated The Armed Forces Retirement Home when Hurricane Katrina hit Gulfport, Miss. The hurricane forced retirees out of the 11-story brick building.
"The day after the storm hit, they called everyone to the fourth floor," Folk said. "They said we had to get out of there. The first floor was flooded. That’s where long-term care patients were."
The Navy Construction Battalion carried patients from the first to the fourth floor. "Even our hairdresser came to help us," Folk said. "Her house was gone."
Folk, Manning and other armed forces retirees were ordered to pack one small bag with a few clothes and important papers and board one of the 10 busses waiting for them. "We had to go through tiny stairwells with no lights," Manning said. "We are over 80, most of us are World War II vets, and it was really scary."
The two friends said the streets of Gulfport reminded them of war.
"All of the homes were demolished," Manning said. "Our beautiful trees are gone. We had beautiful trees."
Folk described driving through the streets. "It was scary. Power lines were down, telephone poles were down. Homes were crushed," she said.
The retirees were bussed to The Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C.
"They have been wonderful, they have accepted us," Folk said. "They are taking care of us, but we do miss home. We left everything."
Folk and Manning described their home as small, but comfortable.
"Our place was much smaller. We were like one big family," Folk said. "That is what I will miss."
Manning said she will miss the location of her home. "We could go out and do our thing. We were right on the beach, right near casinos and five minutes from the mall," she said. "But the recreation department keeps us very busy."
STERLING RESIDENT, Jennifer Zuckman, contacted the Big Apple Circus and The Armed Forces Retirement Home last week, to bring the evacuees to the circus.
"I was at the circus with my kids on Saturday when I got the idea," Zuckman said. "I thought the veterans might enjoy something like this. It is fun and old-fashioned."
The one-ring circus donated 300 tickets and a dinner of circus treats, like popcorn and soda. Then, Zuckman found a bus company to donate its services.
"Many of the buses have been contracted by FEMA to help bus victims out of New Orleans, but Scott Merrimen of Scenic America Bus Tours pulled through at the last minute. It would have been impossible without him," Zuckman said.
The veterans were bussed to the Dulles Town Center to watch The Big Apple Circus, Grandma Goes to Hollywood, Wednesday night.
"We like to get out," Manning said.
Zuckman sat in the middle of veterans and shared circus snacks with them.
"We think it is wonderful that they do this for us. The recreation department is wonderful," Folk said.
Relocated families and Red Cross relief workers were also invited to the show.
CLOWN noses were passed out upon entry and many families, like the Holcombe family of Sterling, wore them through out the show.
"We love the circus," said Steve Holcombe. His son, Stevie, 2, sat on the edge of his seat as Grandma the Clown made her entrance into the ring. His sister, Victoria, 8, a student at Horizon Elementary, enjoyed the singing and dancing.
Families and friends of all ages enjoyed Wednesday night’s show.