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Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day

by Paul Weddle, COO, Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care

National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is one of the days I’m ashamed to say I used to take for granted. I didn’t grow up in a military family, but I did have a couple of cousins who joined the military as they couldn’t stay out of trouble as youths. Both put in two years of service and returned bulked up, but no wiser in their choices. My parents each had an uncle who served, but they passed away before I was born.  They both succumbed to cirrhosis of the liver after returning from action.

I remember when I turned 18 and had to sign up for the draft. It was a scary moment for me and my twin brother and the odd paradigm it presented. I couldn’t legally drink a beer, but I could kill and be killed in defense of our country. Luckily, my generation was not asked to serve and my life went on without much thought to the military other than to watch the latest war movies as portrayed on the big screen. Parts of ‘Platoon’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan’ still haunt me on occasion. 

We Honor VeteransNational Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is December 7

Thanking Veterans for Their Service

My awareness changed after joining hospice. On Veterans Day several years ago, I went out with a clinical liaison to personally recognize veterans residing in assisted living. I met many colorful characters that day, but it wasn’t until I stepped into apartment 39 that Veterans Day became clear.

The couple we met with in apartment 39 had been married for more than 70 years and had known each other before World War II. They could have walked straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The clinical liaison left me to talk to the husband. She entertained his wife  who “Dan” was caring for. Her dementia had taken a turn for the worse the past year.

He lovingly spoke about her as we chatted and I could tell she was the love of his life. He was in a recliner so I kneeled down to thank him for his service while awarding him with a medal. I could tell my presentation caught him off guard as he firmly gripped my hand, looked me directly in the eye and asked me if I had time for a story. I told him I had all the time in the world at which point he leaned back in his rocker and laid his soul bare.

We Honor VeteransDan’s Story

“I was a rifle squad leader in WWII in the Pacific. February 20, 1945, my squad loaded into a landing vehicle headed to Iwo Jima. The boat stank of sweat, fear and diesel fumes. For some of us, it was our first real action but everyone was nervous. We had heard that fighting had been awful the day before.

Our boat was part of the forward task force needed to secure the beach head hard-earned the day before. We could see fellow marines getting hammered as we roared in on high tide. There were eight marines in my rifle squad, each counting on me to get them home, including my best friend.

As we approached, the air came alive with ordinance, hypersonic rounds whistling all around us. A couple of guys went down before the ramp opened and their screams mixed with the roar of the diesel engine and the chatter of our guns. If there is hell on earth, we surely found it. The moment our ramp hit the beach we were hit with a hail of bullets that wiped out nearly everyone on our boat.

Six of my squad didn’t make it, including my best friend standing in front of me. He was hit several times, killing him almost instantly. One of the rounds went through him and hit me in the hip. Adrenaline and fear kept me alive as I dragged my best friend to shore. I did my best to save him and he died in my arms as we huddled in a bomb crater.

A medic rushed over to see me and screamed at me to leave him as he was gone and to save myself. He quickly applied a pressure bandage on my wound and left me to tend to others.”

His Most Horrific Day

Dan choked up at this point and when I looked up there were tears streaming down his face. For the past five minutes he had retold me in perfect detail the single most horrific day he had ever been through. The past seventy years may as well have been yesterday. He went on to tell me he got shipped out to Guam and ultimately back home to recover from his wounds.

His girlfriend demanded they get married the day he returned. Dan wiped his eyes and said he was never awarded the Purple Heart. He said it never bothered him as he somehow made it out alive so God must have had a purpose for him. He thanked me for listening, but it was I who was thankful for him and for all he shared.

Those of us who have never seen battle will never fully understand what’s expected from the men and women who fight for our freedom. All I know is that the greatest generation will all be gone in the next few years along with our our last chance to learn from their sacrifices and ensure that all they fought for wasn’t in vain. 

We Honor Veterans

Kansas City Hospice is a proud participant in We Honor Veterans. If you’d like to get involved with veteran recognition, Kansas City Hospice honors veterans where they live.  There are individual bedside ceremonies, family gatherings, and larger gatherings where seniors reside. Each is moving and provides validation and closure for their service to our country.

I hope each of you, whether it’s on this Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day or any day thereafter, gets a chance to spend some time with a veteran. From my experience, the time you spend is paid back many times over.

Join us on December 7 for National Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day. Reflect on what it means to serve our nation and take the time to thank a veteran!

About Us

 
The mission of Kansas City Hospice & Palliative Care is to bring expert care, peace of mind, comfort, guidance, and hope to people who are affected by life-limiting illness or by grief. Our vision is that each person in our community is valued from life through death and each family is supported in their grief.

 


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