Veterans

Veterans’ Day: A Reminder that Heroes Walk Among Us

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Frank Hay

The 68-year-old courier has tried to put his memories of the unpopular war in Southeast Asia behind him. He certainly doesn’t think of himself as a hero. Nevertheless, while Frank Hay was making his rounds at Houston Hospice recently, his Vietnam Veteran ball cap was spotted by a staff member who thanked him for his service. He nodded his thanks and thought he’d be on his way until the staff member invited him to talk about the war. Houston Hospice is part of The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s “We Honor Veterans” program. As a result of learning more about the needs of veterans and their families, staff members have a tendency to notice vets.

An 18-Year-Old in America

In 1966, 18-year-old Frank Hay and his family lived a quiet country life on the banks of a lake outside North Guilford, Connecticut. North Guilford is a pleasant town with a volunteer firehouse, a general store and a gas station. As a kid, Frank got a kick out of walking on the lake’s barely submerged island to the astonishment of visitors who thought he was walking on water. With a school career frustrated by dyslexia behind him, Frank went to work as a Railway Postal Clerk. He counted bags of mail that were loaded and unloaded from rail cars as part of the Railway Post Office (RPO). Frank’s family knew young men were being conscripted to assist with a conflict in a place called Vietnam, so they weren’t surprised when he was drafted.

Frank was sent to Fort Gordon, Georgia for pre-induction physical examinations and testing. His dyslexia caused the army to suspect he was faking to get out of service. However, additional testing revealed a high IQ and the kid who grew up deer hunting in the woods of Connecticut was trained to be a gunner on a helicopter. During basic training Frank recalls thinking the war was a game. “I thought we’d come in and say ‘John Wayne’s here. Step aside.’ The first time someone got shot, I thought, ‘Wow! This is real.”’

Confusing New World

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Frank’s first impressions of Vietnam were clouded by confusion. “We’re in our own world in the U.S. and when you go there you realize things are not the same.” He felt disoriented to be in a place where people were so impoverished that they were forced to sell a child rather than part with a cow. Frank had been in Vietnam only seven months when his helicopter was hit by enemy fire and crashed killing the pilot and co-pilot. He was captured immediately by the enemy who took him into the jungle where they were holding other prisoners of war. There were no POW camps at that time so the enemy cut the sole of Frank’s foot to prevent him from escaping.

Prisoner of War

He remembers being moved constantly for 14 months. “I talked with other prisoners but I didn’t become close because a lot of them died. Some of them went loony.” Fellow POWs died of disease and starvation. Frank figures he lost about 50 pounds. “We’d stay in a hole dug in the ground with bars over it. They fed us rice and fish. I’ll never eat rice again.” During the constant moves, the prisoners were separated and brought back together. Whenever Frank’s foot began to heal, it was cut again. “I took my anger out on God. I’d say ‘Why did you let this happen?’ ‘Why don’t you do something?’ I couldn’t be mad at the enemy. They were soldiers too.”

One day while the prisoners were out of their holes for a move, their encampment came under fire from a U.S. Army helicopter. Everyone ran. Guards ran. Prisovietnam_1967ners ran — in all directions. Frank ended up half running and half hobbling with two other prisoners. “We just kept running until we ran into a U. S. Army unit.” He was taken to a field hospital where he was treated and debriefed. From there, Frank went to a VA hospital. After his injuries healed he was sent home.

People Asked Why I Was There

Frank didn’t stay in touch with any of the guys he met in Vietnam. He didn’t keep a uniform, or a photo or any memento of his service. “After the war, people asked why I was there and why I was fighting and killing. We were just soldiers on both sides. We were only doing what we were told. I just wanted to get on with my life.” Frank recalls being spit on and called a baby killer. He went to the VFW Hall in Guilford, Connecticut where he was ridiculed. “The other vets said that Vietnam was not really a war.” Frank resents being denied camaraderie at the hall. “In those days they had dances, parties and baseball games. Now it’s just a place to go drinking. I’m tired of older people coming up and shaking my hand. Where were you when I came home?”

Frank doesn’t like to talk about the war. But in an act of extreme generosity, he did. He did move on. He moved to Houston and, at 50, met and married his wife who hails from Buffalo, New York. Frank has no desire to return to Vietnam. The courier has moved on but some wounds remain.

We Honor Veterans

About Houston Hospice: As a leader in hospice care for people of all ages and all walks of life, nonprofit Houston Hospice provides for the distinct needs of Veterans and their families through its We Honor Veterans Program. Care is provided to patients and families in private homes and in residential facilities throughout Houston and 10 surrounding counties. Inpatient care is provided in the Houston Hospice Margaret Cullen Marshall Hospice Care Center in the Texas Medical Center. To learn more about the We Honor Veterans Program and other services, call 713-468-2441 or visit www.houstonhospice.org.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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Veterans Day: Honoring America’s Veterans Includes Meeting Their Unique Needs

soldier-708711_1280Houston Hospice delivering Veteran-centric care to those who served our country

1 in 4 of All deaths in the U.S. are Veterans

Many Americans do not realize that 1 in 4 of all deaths in the U.S. are Veterans. As the nation honors these American heroes for their military service on Veterans Day, November 11, it’s important to remember that they also deserve recognition and compassionate care when dealing with a serious illness.

As a We Honor Veterans participant, Houston Hospice is providing specialized care to Veterans who are facing a life-limiting illness. The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs created We Honor Veterans to empower hospice and other healthcare providers across America to meet the unique needs of seriously ill Veterans and their families.

We’re Intentional About Caring for the Unique Needs of Our Veterans

“Through We Honor Veterans we are taking a giant step forward in helping healthcare professionals and volunteers understand and serve Veterans at the end of life,” said J. Donald Schumacher, NHPCO president and CEO. “It is time that we step up and acquire the necessary skills and fulfill our mission to serve these men and women with the dignity they deserve.” Houston Hospice CEO, Jim Faucett, noted the benefits of the program to patients and families and the organization, “As we’ve trained to meet the unique needs veterans face at the end of life, our staff has become more aware of all veterans. We’ve been enriched by seeking out our veteran volunteers and learning their stories, and we’re less hesitant to introduce ourselves to other veterans and thank them for their service.”

military-864397_1920Within the We Honor Veterans program, there are four levels of distinction that hospices can earn based on their involvement with Veteran education and their interaction with the Veterans and their family members that they are caring for. The goal of these levels is to ensure the very best care is being provided to those who have served our country. Houston Hospice is working toward the highest level of participation. It is meeting the specific needs of Veterans by being knowledgeable about the wars in which they served and the associated traumas; such as radiation exposure from atmospheric nuclear weapons tests after World War II, and pulmonary maladies resulting from the oil rig fires of the Gulf War. Houston Hospice is also strengthening its relationship with the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center and offering community outreach educational programs for Veterans’ groups about advance care planning, available resources, and care options.

They Know I UnderstandMikeMcCardle_BronzeStar_ForValor_FtBragg_1968

Houston Hospice volunteer, Mike McCardle, began visiting veteran patients 15 years ago. Because he’s a veteran, he said patients open up to him about their lives and the emotional burdens they’ve carried since battle. “I walk in, give my military pedigree, then they give me theirs and we’re off and running. They know they don’t have to explain. They know I understand.” Mike served in Vietnam from 1964-69. He went to war as a young private and left Southeast Asia just five years later as a battle-seasoned Captain in the United States Army. Often, the wives of the veterans he visits have not even heard the stories their husband’s share with him. “The biggest surprise is how much I get out of it. I form a bond with these guys. I’ve met some real characters. I’ve heard about the Battle of the Bulge, and lots of stories about the South Pacific. I was just mastering my own PTSD and these guys really helped me to know that what I was going through is normal.”

As we celebrate our nation’s heroes this Veterans Day – and every day of the year – we must not forget that it is never too late to give them a hero’s welcome home. Learn more at www.WeHonorVeterans.org.

—Karla Goolsby, Houston Hospice Communication Specialist

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