PORT ANGELES — The Captain Joseph House, the only respite center in the United States for families who have lost loved ones in combat since 9/11, will open for its first families on Friday, nine years after the ground was broken for the facility.
“This is the news you all have been waiting for. We will open the doors and welcome Gold Star families for the first time,” announced Betsy Reed Schultz, who led the work to renovate her bed and breakfast into a one-of-a-kind respite center for Gold Star families as she grieved the death of her only son in combat.
The families, who will arrive at the house at 1108 Oak St. in Port Angeles late Friday and stay through next Wednesday, are a unique group, not only because they are the first to be housed at the respite center, but also because of their relationship to the man for whom the center is named.
“These are families who lost loved ones at the same time Joseph was killed,” Schultz said Tuesday.
Not only was it the same time, but in the same place.
Army Captain Joseph Schultz was killed at the age of 36 in Afghanistan on May 29, 2011, when his Humvee was hit by an improvised explosive.
Marty Apolinar and Aaron Blasjo were killed in the same blast as the one that took Joseph’s life.
Apolinar and Blasjo’s families will stay in rooms at the respite center that have been named for them.
Gene Braxton will stay in another room, one that carries his name. He was the only member of Joseph’s crew that survived the explosion.
“He is still serving his country,” Schultz said. “He will be here.
“They all trained together… . The families know each other. They keep in touch.”
Elisa Apolinar and her two boys will be at the house along with her husband, Jesse Belbeck, who lost his first wife, a pilot in Afghanistan, a year after Joseph and the others were killed.
Belbeck was part of Joseph’s team. He was in one of the four Humvees behind Joseph when the device exploded.
He and Elisa have a daughter now. They named her Thalia, after Belbeck’s first wife.
Crystal Blasjo, Aaron’s widow, will arrive along with her two children and two sets of Blasjo parents, who won’t be able to stay together at the house but who will “all get to play together,” Schultz said.
The families will be offered outings ranging from seeing West End sights to learning to surf at Crescent Beach to eating complementary crab at the Dungeness Crab and Seafood Festival.
There also will be time for families to simply talk with each other, Schultz said.
After their five-night and six-day visit, they will be driven back to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in vans provided by Ruddell Auto to return to their homes in North Carolina, Florida, Arizona, Texas and California.
This will be the first of several soft openings, Schultz said, with the next to be Thanksgiving week and another in December.
“This project has taken a really long time and a lot of things have changed in the community in terms of what’s available,” Schultz said.
“We have to have a couple of soft openings to make sure it all works.”
Ground was broken for the Captain Joseph House in June 2013. Total expenditures have been $770,000, Schultz said, while donated goods and services have amounted to $970,000.
“I am so grateful for not just our community, who have been so generous, but also people around the country who have continued to donate,” Schultz said.
“We can be proud that we are the first in the country.”
Executive Editor Leah Leach can be reached at 360-417-3530 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.