It was an emotional day to remember for Korean War veteran Kenneth Hamrick. Not only did the staff at The Groves in Goodyear invite family and friends to a patio party to celebrate his 89th birthday, his Hospice of the Valley care team had another surprise in the works: a Salutes visit to honor his military service.
Mr. Hamrick served as private in the U.S. Army for two years during the war.
“I love it,” he said softly, referring to the April 8 visit. “It took me back to when I enlisted — 16 weeks of basic training. I was proud to serve.”
Mr. Hamrick recalled a few scary memories from the war, like hearing the order, “Fix bayonets.” He looked pained for a moment, then said, “That means you’re going to fight.”
His most painful recollection was losing his cousin to the war. His favorite memory? “Well, my favorite thing was coming home!” he laughed. Then he sobered and added, “In one piece.”
After presenting Mr. Hamrick with a stunning handmade quilt featuring a patriotic theme, Army reservist Ron Garner proudly saluted the man he described as “kind, humble and most deserving of such an honor.”
“It just makes my day. It’s really special for me to bond with a person who has served,” Mr. Garner confided. “I mean, the man is 89 years old and is wearing his veteran’s hat. His service to our country is obviously significant to him.”
The visit was also deeply touching for Mr. Hamrick’s family, who shared how much they cherished the moment the two men saluted each other.
“This means so much. My dad never spoke of the war while I was growing up and probably doesn’t know how much I respect his service. We have our freedom because of men like him,” Mr. Hamrick’s daughter, Kim Vancs, said.
At Hospice of the Valley, several people worked behind the scenes to make the visit happen: Mr. Garner, a volunteer from the Laveen area; volunteer coordinator Eileen Dullum; Samantha Inciong, a community liaison; social worker Katie Cozby; nurse Shannon Seidel; and team leader Sarah Ellis.
Arizona is home to more than half a million veterans. The agency’s Saluting Our Veterans program reflects a commitment to honor veteran patients like Mr. Hamrick for their service to our country and for the sacrifices they and their loved ones made.
A trained volunteer, who also is a veteran, provides this recognition in a face-to-face visit — bestowing a ceremonial pin and a small flag. The two veterans spend time reminiscing about their years of service, often surprising family members who are delighted to hear stories they have never heard before.
These moments are a priceless gift to veterans, who relive their past with pride, while families are left with precious new memories.
Salutes visits are a beautiful way to bring comfort, dignity and compassionate care into someone’s life at a such as meaningful time.
To learn more about becoming a volunteer for this or other programs, visit hov.org/volunteer or call 602-636-6336.
Lin Sue Cooney is director of community engagement for Hospice of the Valley.