There is something humbling about the experience. As a volunteer Veteran honoring a fellow-serviceman or woman who is facing death, Larry Blackmore says he is aware that for the patient being honored, this may be a final life event. “We may be the last group this Veteran has contact with. Patients and families know we are very sincere in thanking and honoring Veterans. These ceremonies offer a sense of closure to us all.”
Pictured center above being honored for his dedicated work to support Veterans, Larry is a Vietnam era Air Force Veteran. Enlisting just after his college graduation in 1968, Larry became a member of the Security Police Squadron and served a year in southeast Asia, logging time back and forth between Thailand and Vietnam. He ended his tour of duty as a staff sergeant stationed in Ohio and felt good about his service. His more recent experiences with Honor Flight and Ohio’s Hospice of Miami County’s American Pride honor pinning programs are a source of great satisfaction and reward.
Honor Flight Dayton is a program that originated in Ohio that enables Veterans to visit the war memorials in Washington DC at no charge. “When I was invited to become involved with the Ohio’s Hospice of Miami County program honoring Veterans in hospice care, I was able to bring some of the elements we used in Honor Flight Dayton to hospice ceremonies honoring Veterans,” Larry explains. “We include a “mail call.” At every pinning ceremony, I share cards and letters of appreciation and read them to the Hospice Veteran. You can tell, even if they are unable to physically respond, the Veteran knows we are there when we call them by name or rank. They react to the military-to-military greeting. That reaction has the most impact on me.”
For Veterans in hospice care, an Honor Flight to D.C. may not be feasible, so Larry provides “Honoring Yesterday’s Heroes.” “I ask for photos of the Veterans who can’t physically make the trip and take the picture along on the D.C. Honor Flight. Then we position the pictures at the memorial of the Veteran’s branch of service and take a photograph. These are provided to the family at no charge and serve as a unique memorial to the Veteran and his service. If we are honoring a Veteran whose health is seriously failing, we can provide a photoshop image of the Veteran at the appropriate memorial(s) within 1-2 days.”
Larry remembers one instance in which he and a fellow Veteran arrived at the inpatient unit of Ohio’s Hospice of Miami County at Upper Valley Medical Center for a Veteran pinning ceremony. When they arrived, a nurse was with the patient and the door to the patient’s room was closed. The patient had passed and his daughter and granddaughter were still in the room with him. The two Veterans offered to provide the pinning ceremony and honor him posthumously. Their presentation was very meaningful and brought closure to the family members one of whom, coincidentally, Larry knew quite well. When he later attended the family visitation, the family expressed gratitude for the dignity and respect of the pinning ceremony.
Larry has also found a new group of brothers through Veteran to Veteran outreach. “There are ten or twelve of us who try to participate in Veteran pinnings together. Some are Veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq/Afghanistan. We really respect each other and are all very serious about the honor services. We all understand how important this is to patients and families. It is meaningful to us that we share these moments as a group.”
His words and experiences speak volumes about the mission of the American Pride program.