Jim’s military experience provides him an immediate connection with the veterans, especially with Vietnam vets. “I came back with Agent Orange, but when I walk into a vet’s room, introduce myself, state my purpose to express appreciation for their service on behalf of the hospital, they welcome me. When I tell them I was in Nam and came back with Agent Orange, I often see tears glimmering in their eyes, and some openly weep, especially those suffering similar illnesses.”
Bob has been visiting the vets and handing out the military blankets since the Veteran Appreciation Program was initiated at St Mary in the March 16, 2016, and he’s still on the job! (Except during COVID) “Incoming patients are asked on the intake form if they are active-duty military or a veteran. If they answer affirmatively, we (the volunteers) can visit them and give them a blanket.”
Bob shared some of the stories from his visits. “Some guys said, ‘Thanks, nice blanket.’ Others might get into a conversation, while still others were unable to speak, but their spouse or family member enthusiastically expressed their gratitude. Especially in the ICU and CCU, the relatives of the veteran often received the blanket, and got very excited and sometimes emotional, so grateful that their loved one was being acknowledged and honored in this way.”
Both Jim and Bob mentioned that frequently the blanket took on the significance of the American flag for these families.
“One day on my rounds, I visited a Vietnam vet,” Bob said. “I introduced myself and told him I was there to express our appreciation for his service and present him with this blanket. He broke down sobbing. As he clutched the blanket tightly, he said, ‘Nobody ever gave me anything for serving over there or thanked me.’ This is one reason I still love doing this work.”
One of our key purposes in establishing this program was to ensure those who have served to keep our country strong and free (whether in wartime or not) are never forgotten.