Monday, May 31, 2010

Memorial Day – May 31, 2010

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.


pwm said...

This is a beautifully written tribute about a wonderful group of people. Very touching. I have not been privileged to know them like you... but I too am grateful.

Kimberly said...

What a blessing you had hearing all of their stories and remembering their contributions! From what I understand, those who served in WWII have grave memories about what happened. My pawpaw never talked about the war until his later years--around 70 or so---and it still was very limited---a comment here and a comment there. Even his war memorabilia/photos were stored in their old house which was no longer occupied---he said he wanted them kept there. The little bit I do know about those mementos is that some of them were acquired from a German soldier, who was more than likely dead in order for him to acquire it. A scary thought as I hold some of them in my hand now. I can't imagine what he must have seen. In talking to alot of people who have had family members serve in that war, this is not uncommon. Most have suppressed those memories. I think that's the only way some of them can live life without losing it b/c they were exposed to such devastation and tragedy. And I just found out the other day that 40% of the homeless people in Atlanta are veterans. So sad......breaks my heart. Thanks for sharing your story and helping us to remember what Memorial Day is all about!