Tuesday, November 11, 2014
Thank you for letting me into your lives, your hearts and your souls. For almost 20 years I was privileged and blessed to serve you. You taught me so much about life, brotherhood, honor, living with vision loss, MS and so many other challenges both physical and emotional. It was often easier for you to show me your physical wounds. I had to gain your confidence as little by little you would trust me with what you considered to be your darkest secrets. Together we bore witness to what kept you up at night, caused you to startle during the day; we brought light, love and compassion to the burdens you carried of guilt and shame. Those burdens weighed more heavily on you than any rucksack you carried and kept you from knowing peace, joy and happiness.
What a privilege to work with the former Prisoners of War. The stories of 20 of the men who attended the Ex-POW support groups at the Boston VA Healthcare system is beautifully captured in Journey Out of Darkness: The Real Story of American Heroes in Hitler's POW Camps--An Oral History.
You can read their stories on line at the National Heritage Museum's website.
The self-proclaimed leader of the group and a fierce advocate for veterans in general and POW's in particular was Frank Molinari:
He would be in the Director's office every other week making sure that veterans were receiving the benefits and medical care that they were entitled to. He knew that I was also a fierce advocate for veterans and arranged for me to receive a Certificate of Award thanking me for my service:
I was always overwhelmed by the gratitude and appreciation you showed me for doing my job, making sure that because you did your job in such a selfless and courageous manor, you received the care and benefits you were entitled to.
Your family members allowed me to help them take care of you; so many of you suffered dementia in your later years. It broke my heart to see you slowly slip away and yet how you lived, all that you had done and shared live on forever in the hearts of those privileged to know you.
Thankfully there are oral history projects for veterans. One of my legally blind, Vietnam veterans is featured in the Natick Oral History Project along with veterans from every era from World War II to today. They include Peacetime Service and those who served on the Home Front. Each veteran holds a special place in our history whether or not they directly bore the brunt of battle. There is also the Veterans History Project through the Library of Congress. Please share your stories so that your service will be remembered and passed down from generation to generation.
I knew that I needed to pass the baton onto younger social workers who could tend to the wounds of the new generation of veterans. I know there are many good people to care for you in the VA and in the community. There are many organizations to help you heal now; many people doing incredible work on behalf of our nation's veterans and their families to ensure that you have a good quality of life and can find your way to your healing path.
When I told the POW's that I was leaving the VA, Frank asked to meet me with me one-on-one. He asked me if he needed to go to the Director to take care of anything that might have led to my decision to leave that was a result of the system. I smiled. I cried and I told him that I needed to go and tend to my physical and emotional wounds from polio and violence. On the last day of the Ex-POW group, they presented me with several gifts from their hearts to send me off into retirement. They gave me a gardening set, some things for cooking and an American Flag signed by all the members of the group.
The greatest gift they, and all of you, have given me and each of us is the gift of freedom.
Dear veterans - thank you from the bottom of my heart. May you be happy. May you be healthy. May you be safe. May you live with ease. And to all of our active duty military on this Veteran's Day, thank you for keeping us safe and free.
With my love and gratitude,