Thanksgiving among veterans
November 23, 2005
In a wing at Barton Memorial Hospital, two visitors pushed open a door into the Skilled Nursing Center on Wednesday and were greeted by a black-and-white Australian sheep dog named Taylor.
The dog sometimes acts as the first encounter at the center, which houses 48 residents needing the full-time care of registered nurses and doctors and also holds some war heroes who went under the radar of American Legion Hall members.
Gene Ross, commander of the American Legion Hall, dropped by the center on Veterans Day with others to give poppies and trade conversation with comrades.
“They were really enjoyable to talk with,” Ross said.
The center’s activities director, Maureen Froyum, was overjoyed by the visit.
“That was my whole goal: to get someone in here and honor them,” she said.
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Bob Deines, 75, served as a military police officer for 17 months in Tokyo from 1953 to 1954. Now bedridden after a 21Ú2-foot fall from his deck two years ago, Deines recalled his duty with a walker near his head and wheelchair by his feet.
He recalled attending the trial of an 18-year-old he arrested for being under the influence of opium. The man stood trial with an ashen face and white hair, Deines said.
“He looked like, I’d say, he looked like a 90-year-old person when I went to his trial six months later,” Deines said.
As an officer, he once had a switchblade pulled on him. The Japanese, though, didn’t pose too many problems, he said.
“It was mostly college kids who wanted to be Communists,” he said. “We had the same problem over here. A lot of college kids wanted to be Communists for crying out loud.”
During his time in Tokyo, he envisioned returning to his farm in Nebraska.
Walt Hunt, 62, has been at the center for three months. He suffered a stroke and has trouble hearing. As an equipment operator in the Navy, he was deployed to Vietnam and the Philippines during his two-year military career.
Afterward, he had a stint in law enforcement but turned to construction.
“The only shot fired was from my nail gun,” he said.
Than there’s the seldom-speaking 85-year-old World War II Marine veteran Raymond Naylor, who Froyum said had 17 bullets embedded in his body.
His family made a biography of the man who has Alzheimer’s disease.
“Toward the end of World War II, after several major crashes, he was medically discharged as 1st lieutenant,” it read.
Thanksgiving at the center is festive, Froyum said, with family members encouraged to bring dishes. Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing and yams are provided by staff members.
“Basically this is their home and we try to make it feel like that,” Froyum said.
Deines’ wife is bringing potato salad.
“It’s pretty nice,” he said. “I’ll tell ya they serve good food.”
Hunt had a different view. His closest family is in Sacramento.
“I’d rather be home with my family but that will never happen,” he said. “It’s the first Thanksgiving I’ll be away from them.”