April 22, 2021
by Lin Sue Cooney
It was an emotional day to remember for veteran Kenneth Hamrick. Not only did the staff at The Groves in Goodyear invite family and friends to a patio party to celebrate his 89th birthday, his Hospice of the Valley care team had another surprise in the works: a Salutes visit to honor his military service. Kenneth served as an Army private for two years during the Korean War.
“I loved this special honor,” he said softly. “It took me back to when I enlisted;16 weeks of basic training. I was proud to serve.” Kenneth recalls a few scary memories, like hearing the order: “Fix bayonets.” His eyes narrow a bit. “That means you’re gonna fight.” His most painful recollection — losing his cousin to the war. His favorite memory? “Well, my favorite thing was coming home,” he laughs. Then he sobers. “In one piece,” he adds.
After presenting Kenneth with a stunning handmade quilt featuring a patriotic theme, Army reservist Ron Garner proudly saluted a man he described as “kind, humble and most deserving of such an honor.”
“It just makes my day. It’s really special for me to bond with a person who has served,” Ron says. “I mean, the man is 89 years old and is wearing his veteran’s hat. His service to our country is obviously significant to him.“
The visit was also extremely touching for Kenneth’s family, who shared how much they cherished the moment the two men saluted each other. “This means so much. My dad never spoke of the war while I was growing up and probably doesn’t know how much I respect his service. We have our freedom because of men like him,“ says daughter Kim Vancs. “This tribute was emotional for me.”
At Hospice of the Valley, several people worked behind the scenes to make this happen: Ron, a volunteer; Eileen Dullum, a volunteer coordinator; Samantha Inciong, a community liaison; social worker Katie Cozby; nurse Shannon Seidel; and team leader Sarah Ellis.
Arizona is home to more than half a million veterans. The agency’s Saluting Our Veterans program reflects a commitment to honor veteran patients like Kenneth for their service to our country and for the sacrifices they and their loved ones made. Since the program started in 2011, Hospice of the Valley volunteers have made nearly 3,000 tribute visits. These trained volunteers, who are veterans themselves, provide an intimate face-to-face meeting — bestowing a ceremonial pin and a small flag. The two veterans spend time reminiscing about their years of service, often surprising family members who are delighted to hear stories they have never heard before. These moments are a priceless gift to veterans, who relive their past with pride, while families are left with precious new memories.
Salutes visits are a beautiful way to bring comfort, dignity and compassionate care into someone's life at a deeply meaningful time. To learn more about becoming a volunteer for this or other programs, visit hov.org/volunteer or call (602) 636-6336.
Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement for Hospice of the Valley.