Tony Chirico
Special to the Bonanza

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May 25, 2012
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There truly are angels among us

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Take it from me — there are truly angels among us. I know this from personal experience. Let me share with you two special examples.

As you know, the Incline Village /Crystal Bay Veterans Club has donated underwear, socks and toiletries to VA hospital veterans for the past four years. On one of my many trips to the Reno facility, I went to see administrator John Howard to ask what more we can do to help. After my visit with John, I came upon a young lady sitting in the lobby, crying.

Taking a seat next to her, I asked if I could help: “Try to think of me as a father or grandfather to whom you would turn to for advice and help.”

The woman — whom I shall call Mary — accepted my offer and related her story to me. Mary said, “I lost my father a couple of years ago. He was a Vietnam veteran and a patient at this hospital. I would visit my dad, reading stories to comfort him before he passed away. I could see it had helped him, so I continued my visits, each time reading to one of the terminally ill veterans who were patients.

“On one visit, I was touched by a patient who seemed sad and lonely. I introduced myself. He told me his name was Frank. I suggested reading him a story, allowing him to chose from the western, horror story and love story books I had brought. He eagerly agreed. ‘Please tell me a love story. I had a love story of my own with my wife Betty. We were married fifty-five years. God love her, for she passed away last year!”

“I told him I would love to read to him. As I did, I could see Frank loved hearing the love story, clearly comparing it to his love for Betty. As time wore on, I looked at my watch. It was time to pick up my children from school and make dinner for my family. I told Frank I had to leave, but would be back in two days.

“All Frank could answer was to say plaintively, ‘I understand,’ so I left.

“I was back when I promised I would be. Frank was happy to see me. I continued to read the love story. Again, time passed too quickly. I asked to leave to be with my family, promising to come back. Frank begged me to stay and finish the story. With a heavy heart, I insisted my family needed me.

“Again he said, ‘I understand.’ I told him I would be back after the weekend. Frank said, ‘I understand, Mary. You have a life of your own. Thank you for being so kind to me.’

“Monday morning, I went to Frank’s room. There was no one there. His bed was turned down. I looked around, confused. A nurse came up to me, saying, ‘Frank passed away last night.’ I could not contain myself and started to cry.

“I told the nurse, ‘He begged me to finish the love story. I did not do it. I should have known. I cannot forgive myself.’

“Looking around to see if anyone was listening, the nurse told me, ‘I should not be doing this, but would you like to see Frank to say good-bye?’

“I hesitated, but said ‘yes.’

“The nurse brought me down to see Frank’s body. He was so stiff and so cold. Nevertheless, I held his hand, saying, ‘Frank, please forgive me!’ My tears burst out. ‘I know you are looking down on me and want me to finish the love story, so I will.’

“I read the rest of the story to him. While reading, I sneaked a peek at him. I swear there was a smile on his face. I bent over and kissed his forehead and left.

“Frank left an indelible impression on me.”

From my story, you can tell Mary is an angel among us.

And we at the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Veterans Club are fortunate to have another angel among us. Her name is Wilma Vander Eckhart. Just as Mary did, Wilma goes to the VA, brings books and reads to veterans.

As well, she consoles many veterans right here in Incline Village. She saw, and read to, Tim Young, a Navy veteran who passed away a few months ago. She visits and cooks for Jim Devine, bringing him much comfort. Jim is a Navy veteran and is in much need of our help. And Wilma has made many visits to our own Bill Redel, our most precious veteran at 94 years old. God bless him!

Wilman is a beautiful person with a heart of gold. She is surely an angel among us.

I am Tony Chirico. As past president of the Incline Village/Crystal Bay Veterans Club, I am asking you, “Will you be an angel among us?”

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated May 25, 2012 01:32PM Published May 25, 2012 01:23PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.