Thank You for Your Service!

Yesterday, I met a former colleague whom I had not seen in 12 years. The purpose of the meeting was business, but of course we reminisced. The conversation came around to extraordinary hospice experiences, and my former colleague shared a story that reminded me of a former patient named Charlie.

Charlie resided with his wife of 50+ years in a small apartment. He had cancer and spent most of his time in bed or sitting on the front porch. He was soft spoken and unassuming. A veteran of WWII, he shared little of his Army experience, other than admitting that he saw combat. Knowing that some veterans prefer not to talk about such things, I refrained from inessential probing.

One day, I arrived for my visit and was greeted by Charlie’s wife, who said that Charlie was sleeping – something that he had done little of as of late. I suggested that she not awaken him. (This allowed me some quality alone time with her). During our conversation, I asked Charlie’s wife about his Army experience. Turns out Charlie was a platoon Sargent who experienced much combat. She went on to tell me how Charlie and his platoon found themselves embroiled in a battle in which they became encircled by German soldiers and were under tank fire. Heavy causalities were realized and it looked hopeless. Seizing a small window of opportunity, in a moment of unbelievable heroism, Charlie commandeered a German tank and turned it on his enemies, saving the lives of what remained of his platoon. I sat speechless.

But the story continued as I learned that the medals Charlie had been awarded for his extraordinary heroism in battle were lost by his son (now an adult) many years ago. He had taken them (without permission) outside to “play Army”, and they were never to be seen again. The family had hoped one day to try to get replacements, she said, but had never gotten around to it. Now Charlie’s death was imminent, and her eyes welled as she relayed that his wish to replace his medals to leave as a legacy for his now adult children would go unfulfilled.

Charlie woke, and I could not possibly let this new information go unaddressed. I asked him about the infamous battle. Without hesitation, yet humbly beyond belief, he recanted the story told by his wife, minimizing his heroism in all ways imaginable.

Later that afternoon, I contacted the office of the PA state representative and relayed the story, hoping that they might be able to assist in getting Charlie’s medals replaced, explaining that Charlie had not much time left. While they promised to do their best to obtain them before he died, they cautioned that replacing medals could take months. Ten days passed, and Charlie continued to decline and was now confined to bed. On the 12th day, our receptionist received an urgent call from Charlie’s wife. Tearful and anxious, she said she needed to speak with me right away. I reached for the phone, fearing the worst. I picked up the receiver and said hello. Her first words were, “You’ve got to come over here”. Again, fearing the worst, I asked if she and Charlie were OK. The next words I heard were these: “The representative is here with Charlie’s medals!

I left the office immediately, but by the time I arrived at the house the representative had left. But there sat Charlie, sitting on the side of his bed (something he had not done in over a week), proudly holding his medals, beaming from ear to ear, more animated than I had seen him in several months. Charlie passed the following week, but I took great comfort in knowing that I was able to assist in granting his remaining dying wish.

I will never forget Charlie, his wife, or the site of him sitting on the edge of that bed grinning like the Cheshire cat. This is why we do what we do.

About Charles R. Bacinelli, PhD

Dr. Bacinelli holds a Masters in Social Work and a PhD in Human Development. Professional experiences during his 30+ year career includes university teaching as well as direct care and management experiences in child welfare, hospice, home health, counseling, special needs and program development. In addition to overseeing social service staff, Dr. Bacinelli chairs the Ethics Committee and assists in overall program management and development efforts. He is also a licensed PA Notary.


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