When I was working, I spent 2 mornings every week at the Wisconsin Veteran’s Home in King, WI. I was responsible for the medical care of a certain number of veterans or veteran’s spouses. When I started in 1997, I believe there were actually a couple of very old veterans who had served in WWI. Mostly, though, my patients were men who had served in WWII and their wives. I did take care of a few women who had served in WWII. Several of the newer patients were from more recent combat, particularly some of those with either degenerate illnesses or accident injuries that required nursing home care.
When a patient (they are called members) was admitted to the Home, my job was to take their history and do a physical examination. Sometimes they came with paperwork, but sometimes not. If they had dementia, I got a lot of information from the family members. Their paperwork always told which branch of the military they served in and what years. I usually asked what they did during their time in the service and where they served.
One of my members survived the sinking of the USS Arizona and then was in the Navy in the Pacific during the rest of WWII. Several of my members were present at D-Day. One talked about walking through France during the war. Some told horrific stories, but very few did that. I do remember one member telling about being in a German POW camp and only weighing about 88 pounds when he was released.
For the most part, though, most members kept the horror either to themselves or buried deep. I don’t know which. Some would only say where they served and nothing else. Some would tell the funny stories but nothing else.
The wives would talk about what their husbands were like after the war. Some wouldn’t sleep for a long time. Some had changed. Others seemed pretty normal.
One thing that is true of every single member at the Veteran’s Home that I met was that they are intensely patriotic. Every veteran gets a military funeral. I remember one veteran that was part of the honor guard that participated at the funerals. I would see him in his dress uniform on the days when he was participating. When his dementia and kidney disease caught up with him, he could not longer be in the honor guard and the dress uniform hung in his closet. But, I will always see him standing so proud in his dress khakis.
These are the people I remember today. These men and women have many counterparts living out in the community or in other nursing homes or VA nursing homes. But, I remember these Wisconsin Veteran Home members. I remember their stories. I think about the stories they wouldn’t tell. And I’m so very grateful.