By Beverly Medlyn
As the nation celebrates July 4th, Hospice of the Valley celebrates the lives of our military veteran patients and the volunteers who support them through our Saluting Our Veterans program.
Saluting Our Veterans launched in 2011. “The program was designed to honor and thank military veterans for their service to our country,” said Stacia Ortega, director of volunteer services. “During a Salutes visit, veteran volunteers take a moment to visit one-on-one with the patient, giving the patient a chance to connect and share stories with another veteran who understands. The patient is honored with a ceremonial pin and branch of service flag.” The visit takes place wherever the patient resides—a personal residence, facility or palliative care unit.
Nearly 2,100 veterans who are HOV patients have been honored by Salutes volunteers. Currently 41 volunteers representing every branch of service call upon patients, who are referred by HOV care teams. Salutes volunteers also participate in community veterans’ events and in HOV’s Speakers Bureau.
As is so often the case, volunteers say they get more than they give. “That’s the way I get my hospice pay, their appreciation of me, I can feel it,” said Larry Petrowski, an Air Force judge advocate who retired as a colonel, then practiced civilian law.
Volunteers also appreciate the camaraderie and trust that flows between fellow military veterans.
“Every one of these people has a story, and it’s nice to listen to it and pass that story on,” said Fred Selinsky, retired Navy chief petty officer. “I hear about their lives, what they’ve gone through. That’s very satisfying. It’s living history.”
One of his patients was a Royal Air Force pilot in World War II. Another played in the Army band with Glenn Miller. Last month Selinsky honored a 101-year-old patient who was an ensign at Pearl Harbor the day it was bombed and a Navy commander at Tokyo Bay when Japan surrendered.
Other notable patients recalled by volunteers include men who were POWs in Japan; pilots who fought the Battle of the Bulge; and a survivor of the Bataan Death March.
Salutes volunteers say family members often say they hear stories about their loved one’s wartime experiences for the first time during a Salutes visit.
“One patient I had told stories over a three-hour period with his sons in the room. They were mesmerized. As we finished, I pinned him. One son followed me out and said he never knew his father had those experiences. For me to be the mechanism that passes down family history is an honor,” said Gale Winters, a retired Air Force veteran who was disabled in Vietnam. “I enjoy so much being with these guys—they are my heroes. It’s a brotherhood of blood.”