Veterans serving veterans was the purpose of the Oct. 26 trip made to the Veterans Affairs Community Living Center in Decatur by members of the Albert Gordon Post 56 of the American Legion.
Commander Gene Bennett also enlisted the help of Sons of the American Legion (SAL) and Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) cadets from Jackson County Schools to assist in putting on a fall festival atmosphere for veterans who make their home at the center.
COL (Ret) Mike Phipps, Senior Army Instructor (SAI), and Battalion Commander C/LTC James Roberts lead the East Jackson Comprehensive High School contingent while U.S. Army (Ret) LTC ELizabeth J. Higgins, Senior Instructor of the JROTC at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, and Battalion XO Deryk Soonah oversaw assignments for the 19 cadets attending.
Oktoberfest was the fall festival being celebrated when the American Legion members and the JROTC cadets visited.
Commander Roberts and Battalion XO Soonah led their respective school’s JROTC cadets and divided the cadets into groups to assist with the games to be played. The activities were coordinated by Rosemary McGinty and recreational therapist Jayna McGhee.
Residents had a chance to win prizes as they bobbed for apples using a hand grabber, pitched small basketballs into a large bucket, putted the golf balls or tossed rings. There was also a wheelchair relay with CD players going to the winners. Music played in the background as some veterans played chess with the cadets and others shared stories from the military experience with Legion members and cadets.
“I enjoyed hearing from the World War II guys,” said Senior Vice Commander Wayne Bowen. “It was good to see how happy everybody is.”
The center has 48 residents ranging in age from their early 20s into their 90s. Eight are female and more than a dozen are bedbound. Some of the residents have traumatic brain injury from their service in Iraq while others are World War II veterans dealing with dementia.
Sarah Myers of the Department of Veterans Affairs said renovation of the nursing home got under way five years ago beginning with the third floor living area. The first floor renovation was completed about 18 months ago and provided a more home-like environment for the dining area where residents now get their option of select menus.
Spa bathing areas have taken the place of the formerly institutional-type bathrooms and the nursing stations have been transformed into more of a living room type area.
“It’s just more home like,” said Myers, of the change of focus for the nursing home.
Now it’s a community living center where veterans are residing. Outside the center’s dining area is the Gardening for Wellness area where residents can play in the dirt. The summer flowers were being changed out to make way for the fall planting of flowers and vegetables which will last through the winter weather.
McGinty said many of the residents come from small farms so they like the opportunity to do some gardening.
The Legion members and JROTC cadets prepared plates for the veterans to be enjoyed after the games were wrapped up.
Picnic tables under the pergola were where cadets and Legion members brought barbecue plates to the veterans and sat down to enjoy talking with the veterans.
Dreamland Bar-B-Que delivered tasty pulled pork, pulled chicken and ribs which were complemented by beans, cole slaw, buns and sliced bread as well as banana pudding. The Legion members also brought along cookies, brownies and sliced cake to be enjoyed.
George Wilkes, Junior Vice Commander of the post, said, “This is the first year we’ve done it and I think it’s a good thing.” Wilkes said the post’s mission is a help veterans and young people and the event is bringing together both groups. “It was good to see everybody enjoying themselves.”
“The Army JROTC cadets were great. They looked sharp in their uniforms and the veterans and staff really enjoyed having them there,” said Bennett.
COL Phipps had seven EJCHS cadets on the trip. C/LTC James Roberts, C/CPT Anton Mejias, C/CPT Jeffries Priest, C/CPT Yeng Xiong, C/CPT Ben Stephens, C/SSG Meghan Hertzog and CDT James Maddox spent the day with the veterans.
“The cadets were all very pleased that they got to participate and help out the veterans,” said COL Phipps. “They were also fascinated with the veterans that opened up to share ‘their stories’ with them. In fact, they are looking forward to the next time they get to go to the VA and intermingle.
“A couple of the cadets asked me if it would be OK for them to write notes/letters to them,” said COL Phipps.
LTC Higgins said the experience was a great one for the cadets. She thanked the American Legion for including the cadets in the Octoberfest event.
Representing Jackson County Comprehensive High School was C/LT Christopher Lawrence, C/MAJ Deryk Soonah, C/CPT Callon Tolbert, C/CPT Jakob Skelton, C/LT Jessica Rogers, C/1SGT Joseph Lindquist, C/1SGT Stephen Gowen, C/CPT Dylan Thomas, C/SSG Jenna Funderburke, C/SFC Spencer Taylor, C/CPL Dan Moua and C/CPL Christopher Hansen.
“The cadets really got a lot out of the trip. They really enjoyed trying to make a difference for those in the center,” said Higgins. “We would love to help again in any way we can.”
Representing the American Legion Post was Bennett, Mike Buffington, Mack Cates, Fred Simbro, Jim Wofford, Tim Walker, Bob Stites, Wayne Brown and George Wilkes. SAL Commander Chris Foster also participated.
“It was a great event and the time, effort and funds spent were well worth it,” said Bennett. “I’m not sure who was the most pleased our members, the veterans residing at CLC, the JCCHS/EJCCHS Army JROTC cadets, SAL members or the VA staff.
“We enjoyed good BBQ, sides, desserts and drinks with plenty for all,” said Bennett.
“The CLC staff members were just great. I for one feel good about the care provided by them. The veterans residing at the CLC and the staff asked that we do the same again soon,” said Bennett. “I feel comfortable that what we did was the right thing and that we should plan to do it again in the future.”
A special thanks to Jeanie Wilkes and her helper for desserts and drinks, said Bennett, in expressing appreciation to the Legion members and other volunteers taking part in the special day for the veterans.
“The 10th District Commander John Ruckdeschel dropped by and had BBQ with us,” said Bennett. “Hopefully, next time, we can make it bigger and better.”
American Legion Post 56 visits veterans at community living center