by Jim Sterling, Colonel, USAF, MSC (retired)
I enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard when I was 17 years old. After a tour aboard the USCGC Unimak (WHEC 379), I taught sea survival skills to officer candidates. Realizing that I could be an officer, I was honorably discharged to pursue the requisite college education. Graduating a couple of years later, the U.S. Air Force recruited me as a healthcare administrator. My family and I would serve for nearly 30 years before I hung up my uniform for what I thought would be the last time.
When the We Honor Veterans program came to Hospice of the Red River Valley, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of—honoring the brave sacrifices these men and women made for their families and country. Working with our outstanding staff and volunteers, I have been blessed to continue to serve with these Veterans–this has been one of the most remarkable experiences I have had.
“Attention to orders” is a command all our Veterans have heard before. It signifies the start of a military ceremony. At Hospice of the Red River Valley, we have continued with this tradition.
The event is about how we honor and thank our Veterans. To do this, our social workers speak with family members and friends before the ceremony and gather photos, stories, and memories of the Veteran’s life inside and outside of their service. We build a timeline that includes before, during, and after their service. During the ceremony, I present this along with a certificate commemorating their service to the Veterans and recognize the sacrifices made by their families. We have found the experience of the ceremony, viewing these photos, and hearing happy memories and sometimes humorous stories can help sharpen the Veteran’s recollection of events that happened while they served and can prompt them to share such stories with their gathered family and friends.
After highlighting the Veteran’s military service and acknowledging the sacrifices they made for their country and their families. I offer them a salute—a time-honored courtesy for all Veterans. Each Veteran has returned the salute; regardless of whether or not they are bedridden or have been impacted by dementia or Alzheimer’s, they all remembered and recognized the honor and respect of the salute.
These events are generally formal yet emotional for the Veteran and attendees. There is rarely a dry eye left in the room. Several of these Veterans were so patriotic that they were initially turned away, trying to enlist at the ages of 15 and 16—in every case, these brave men returned a year or two later to enlist and serve their country.
By recognizing and honoring these Veterans, we allow generations of families and friends to understand, appreciate, and have a small glimpse into the sacrifices these fine men and women have given to the United States.
I am humbled beyond words to be a part of these honored events.
Jim Sterling is the Chief Compliance and Information Technology Officer at Hospice of the Red River Valley.