Most of us will enjoy Memorial Day weekend as the kickoff to summer. But the reason the holiday began has a sobering history, which JourneyCare’s We Honor Veterans program will help area senior living communities to remember this year.
Memorial Day pays tribute to the more than 1 million Americans who left home to fight for our country but did not return: to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, and to pay them homage. There are currently more than 21 million military veterans living in our country - but this is not their day.
Rick Davis is a graduate of Purdue University who has lived in Evanston for 40 years. He is a retired Registered Representative who worked in financial services. Davis served four years in the Marine Corps, including two tours in the Vietnam War. He is married to his high school sweetheart and they have been together more than 50 years. Some of his past volunteer work includes participation in the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum's educational outreach program. Here he shared with high school and college students of American history what it was like to be in a combat zone in Vietnam as a 20-year-old – a talk he has given to more than 25,000 people. He is a contributor to the book “Once a Marine” by Claude DeShazo, a collection of stories by veterans about how their Marine Corps experience impacted their lives.
In addition to his volunteer work at the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum, Davis has been a civic volunteer for Heifer International, promoting the humanitarian work of this nonprofit organization. He led discussion groups for the Northwest Earth Institute, educating others on issues surrounding the environment. He has also been a supporter of America Saves, a campaign to encourage people to return to those long forgotten habits of frugality, thrift, moderation, self-discipline, delayed gratification and patience. He has also volunteered at the Presbyterian Retirement Home in Evanston, as well as Hillside Food Pantry.
Rick and his wife, Sheila, have traveled to more than 20 countries. They have hiked the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains, Pyrenees, Andes and Himalayas. They have seen the King of Bhutan and King of Cambodia. The duo has traveled up the Mekong Delta to Angkor Wat, sailed up the Nile in Egypt, hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu and hiked through Tuscany, and explored Patagonia. A highlight of their travels was climbing Mt. Killimanjaro and then experiencing an African safari on the Serengeti.
As a Marine veteran who served two tours of duty in the Vietnam War, I’m well-aware of the sacrifices our men and women make to serve their country in the armed forces. And as a hospice volunteer who works primarily with veterans, I’m able to express my gratitude to veterans for their service in multiple ways.
Time visiting with a veteran and his or her family ̶ the sharing of stories and experiences ̶ are some of the most precious moments in my life. The Marine Corps motto is Semper Fi, meaning always faithful to God, country, and your fellow marine. Well, JourneyCare's volunteer program enables me to carry out that mission not only to other marines but to all veterans.
November is my favorite month. Not just because of the leftover Halloween candy, my birthday and Thanksgiving, although they are a part of it! November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, and on November 11 we observe Veterans Day. This is a beautiful thing to me as it combines two of my passions.
Recently at our Hospice CareCenter at Northwest Community Hospital we cared for a patient, Robert*, who was formerly at a nursing home. He was without family. The only friend we knew about, who was responsible for his power of attorney, lived some distance away. Because Robert was minimally responsive and had not had any visitors, we did not know much about him. This is always a little difficult because we want to understand the patient as a person, to put a "story" together of a life. One of the only details we knew about Robert was that he was a veteran of World War II.
This year marks our country’s 250th Independence Day. But when’s the last time something made you feel good and hopeful about our country? With the senseless violence and crazy political climate we’ve witnessed in recent months, it’s often been hard to feel positive.
But I found an antidote! Volunteer with Honor Flight.
As JourneyCare's We Honor Veterans program coordinator, I frequently interact with other veteran-serving organizations. And there’s no other volunteer experience quite like serving as a guardian for a veteran on an Honor Flight.
Yes, I know that Memorial Day is the day set aside as a national holiday to remember those who died while in military service. And, yes, I think it’s very important for all of us, especially younger people, to be aware that thousands of men and women actually gave their lives in dedicated service to what this country stood for and still stands for.
Most top of mind are likely those killed in World War II, and Korea, and Vietnam, and Iraq, and Afghanistan. But there are others to be remembered... from Grenada and WWI and all the way back to the Civil War. Memorial Day is dedicated to all those who died in service. For those many who died before any recognition could be given them, who didn’t get to hear warm words like, “On behalf of a grateful nation, it is an honor to present to you...” or “Thank you for your dedication, service and sacrifice...“ or “This great nation will be forever in your debt...”
If I had to sum up the story of my friend, Louis Zamperini, his story is one of survival, suffering, salvation and forgiveness.
I came into his life by happenstance at the end of World War II in 1945, when I was a 21-year-old B-29 pilot tasked with a crew to reach the POW camp where Louis was being held, so we could drop critical food and supplies before the ground troops were able to reach them.
Catholic priest and Midwest CareCenter volunteer, Fr. Dennis Logue, participated in Lake County Honor Flight in June. Midwest CareCenter's We Honor Veterans program partners with Lake County Honor Flight to send veterans to honor their service by sending them on an overnight trip to Washington D.C. to see their war memorials, with priority given to World War II and Korean War vets. Here, Fr. Logue describes his experience:
I've you've never gone on an Honor Flight, you just can't imagine what the trip is like.
Sometimes you're given a chance in your work to do something that's completely a labor of love. That's what serving as Midwest CareCenter's We Honor Veterans coordinator is for me. As the granddaughter of a WW I Army Veteran and the daughter of a WW II Navy veteran, I learned early in life to respect unquestioning commitment to a cause, and a willingness to endure personal sacrifice for a "greater good." Because that's what is asked of―and delivered by―our nation's veterans.