I retired from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center here in Sheridan after 23 years of service to our veterans. It was a fulfilling job and I expected to continue to work there for many more years, but a change in leadership and new regulations pre-empted that. I really did not have the time that I wanted to spend with the vets.
Now I work at The Hub on Smith (formerly the Sheridan Senior Center) as an RN case manager for more than 60 veterans who need personal care or homemaking services that enable them to live outside of an institution or nursing home. I find myself having the time to really get to know these individuals. Their stories are amazing and reflect a great love of country and pride in their service. They are reluctant to accept any praise for the sacrifice they gave to their country. Service given during peacetime as well as during conflict. Veterans from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, all with incredible stories to relate, if you know what to ask and have the time to listen. Stories about the atomic and hydrogen bomb testing, stories about meeting John Wayne in Vietnam, stories about being at Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir — the list goes on and on.
I will always remember the time when I went to a veteran’s home that the VA had sent me to see to set up a program for him. I had the mandatory forms to fill out, which of course had ethnicity questions on them, he responded that he was not Latino but was part Japanese. I was surprised and asked him about that, he told me “I’ve got a piece of Japanese shrapnel in my a–!” We both had a good long laugh over that.
Another vet has had difficulty with falling a lot. “What is going on?” I asked him. He then related how his feet had been frostbitten over and over in Korea, turns out he was one of the survivors of the “Frozen Chosin” (an interesting story to read if you don’t know about it). This was more than 60 years ago, from his service in Korea and he just now was asking for some help. Almost to a man or woman they say, “Give this service to someone that really needs it.” They are humble and proud Americans who are still ready to sacrifice.
One common thread that weaves through a lot of these stories is the camaraderies these vets developed during their time in service. Stories of shared meals, tricks that they played on each other or their commanding officers.
In closing I would remind readers that we have heroes in our midst, individuals who are proud of their service and deserve all the respect that we can give them because they gave so much for all of us. Say hi to them and spend some time getting to know them.
God bless all of our veterans.
Guest columnist Dave Schwaiger, RN, is a nurse for The Hub on Smith’s Help at Home program that provides in-home care services in Sheridan County communities. Center Stage is written by friends of The Hub on Smith for the Sheridan community. It is a collection of insights and stories related to living well at every age.