(Danbury, Conn.) After receiving the honor of an armed forces challenge medallion, a dying patient struggled to salute the Commissioner of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs. Later that night, the WWII hero passed away peacefully, surrounded by loved ones.
“Both patients seemed minimally responsive before the commissioner entered the room. However, they both readily acknowledged his presence, and one of the men actually lifted his arm to return the salute,” said Ed Schwartz, LMSW, the Center’s social worker.
Only other soldiers can fully comprehend the significance of Commissioner Sean M. Connolly’s visit with veterans spending their final days at Regional Hospice and Home Care’s Center for Comfort Care & Healing. Yet, the emotional impact visibly struck others in the room as Connolly individually honored each veteran in their rooms with a gift and a formal salute as he said good bye.
Commissioner Connelly, a Lieutenant Colonel in the U. S. Army Reserves, had served in Kuwait and Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom as a prosecutor and brigade legal advisor with the 101st Airborne Division. Connolly and Danbury Councilman Thomas Saadi, also a veteran, who is general counsel and legislative director of the Connecticut Department of Veterans Affairs, toured the Center on Tuesday, September 22nd.
Connolly and Saadi visited with two of the Center’s veterans. Veteran’s families welcomed the men into their private suites where Connolly and Saadi spent time with the patients, thanked them for their service and honored each man with an American flag and a coveted military challenge medallion. During war time, this medallion or coin depending on its size and the rank or position of its presenter, has been known to save American GIs from execution by allied soldiers when other army identification was shed along with uniforms during escape. It is also an emblem of camaraderie— failure to produce one in the company of other recipients means responding with pushups or supplying a round of drinks for other medallion holders in the group.
Regional Hospice volunteer, Gary Boulet, is a Vietnam veteran who spent his tour of duty on the base at Cam Rahn Bay during the Tet Offensive. Gary was on duty at the Center during the commissioner’s visit. He too became the proud recipient of a challenge medallion for his four years of service and his actions during the Cam Rahn Bay bombings by the North Vietnamese.
For our WWII hospice patients and their families, Commissioner Connolly’s visit was the capstone of a resilient generation who grew up during the great depression, endured the hardships and horrors of WWII, rebuilt their lives and nurtured families to honor patriotism and hard-won freedoms. For the family of our veteran who died hours after attempting to salute, the timing could not have been more auspicious or more meaningful.
“It was deeply moving to see the response from our patients when Commissioner Sean Connolly gave them a final salute. Even though they could barely open their eyes minutes earlier, they were valiantly attempting to honor him by returning the gesture that had been paramount during their years of service,” said President & CEO Cynthia Emiry Roy. “It is our privilege to care for the men and women who have served our country. Regional Hospice became an accredited We Honor Veterans Partner to support the dignity of all veterans during end-of-life care.” continued Roy.
Regional Hospice and Home Care’s team of experienced clinicians have been providing physical, emotional, spiritual and bereavement support to children, adults and their families through our palliative and hospice care program for the past 30 years. Regional Hospice and Home Care is a nonprofit, state-licensed and Medicare-certified home health care and hospice agency. Now, with the opening of our new private-room, specialty hospital for palliative and end-of-life care — the Center for Comfort Care & Healing — Regional Hospice and Home Care can bring that same hope and compassionate care close to home and under one roof. For more information, visit www.RegionalHospiceCT.org. Follow us on twitter: @RegionalHospice. Like us on Facebook: www.facebook.com/RegionalHospiceandHomeCare.