THE WORLD HAS LOST A REAL PATRIOT
It's not often that I write about something, or somebody, that is not related to WWII. However, in this case, I shall make the exception. The world lost a real Patriot on November 5th just a few days short of the presidential election and also Veteran's Day 2016. The passing was not auspicious nor for anyone that was really famous. In this case, Patriotism "trumps" fame and notoriety hands down.
This individual was born on June 24th,1931 during the heart of the Depression and was certainly old enough to distinctly remember the hard times and all the bad news during World War II. In fact, joining in with the war effort, this teenager led a group of her peers going door to door in the neighborhood collecting metal and other junk materials that would be used to forge the weapons of victory for the United States. Having graduated from Commerce High School in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1949, this 18-year-old entered the workforce but had dreams of doing something bigger and better.
Auntie Phe in 1943. She is the one with the sailor hat on. She organized the neighborhood kids to collect scrap metal for the war effort. They went door to door wearing these white armbands. She said they collected several piles like this.
When the Korean War broke out in 1950, this 19-year-old was more than ready to answer the call, just like her family had during WWI and WWII. This proud American entered the USAF in 1951 and served with pride and distinction until 1957, attaining the rank of Staff Sgt. In fact, I have often remarked that when the North Koreans found out she was coming, they really got serious at the peace negotiations.
So why do you ask, do I bother to write this blog? It just so happens that this proud American Veteran and Patriot was my favorite Aunt. She also happens to be my one and only Aunt, but that doesn't matter. Quality "trumps" quantity anytime. Being my Mother's sister, she reminded me constantly of my dear mother who had passed at the young age of 74 back in 1999. My Aunt was a fiery, feisty redhead who lived the way she wanted and never had children. However, she did have four nephews, me and my three brothers, and embraced us as if we were hers.
If you drove by her home, there were always flags flying. If you passed her in her car, there was always at least one US flag attached to her window and the always present DAV (Disabled American Veteran) sticker on her car. One of her proudest moments was when the City of Worcester dedicated the Korean War Memorial.
Auntie Phe with my Grandmother and Grandfather circa 1953. She had just returned from a tour in Germany and it was quite obvious she enjoyed the German beer and food.
Most of us know, this is referred to as "The Forgotten War" but that simply was not the case for her. She marched in the parades and let everybody know that America is a great country and would take you on if you disagreed. She worked hard and led a very simple life. Being the oldest of four boys and the closest to her in age (Auntie Phe and I were 14 years apart), I fought with her for years about her smoking. She was cantankerous and always came up with excuses why she couldn't give it up. Finally, when she turned 75, I threw in the towel and told her to "smoke her brains out" because if that didn't kill her then something else would.
By age 82, Auntie Phe began to show signs that the "circle of life" was getting closer to the time for the grim reaper. My Bride and I became active care-givers accompanying her to all her medical appointments and helping her with anything related to her finances and well-being. By 2015 at the age of 84, she had contracted two forms of cancer and began a routine, with our encouragement, of radiation and chemo. This did not sit well with her independent life style and Type-A personality.
So it was in June of 2016, sometime around her 85th birthday, that she made a conscious choice to stop all further treatment. We had a beautiful conversation before and after that last visit to the oncologist, and Donna and I respected her decision. We sat in the courtyard at UMASS Memorial Hospital in Worcester which was built on a massive farm that both Auntie Phe and I remembered well. We talked about the location of the huge barn where they kept all the cows and the "dump", where the trash from the farm, which was a food source for what we then called the "Nut House" (Worcester State Hospital), was located. These days, the helipad for the emergency helicopters was built right over the dump where I used to shoot rats with a neighbor’s "22". We laughed and talked about White City Amusement Park which was no more than a stone's throw from where this massive teaching hospital now sits. My Grandparents, my Mom and my Aunt had all worked there as youngsters.
I asked her if she knew she was going to die soon and she actually said, the sooner the better because she was beginning to suffer. I asked her if she had a bucket list of anything she wanted to do. She paused and said she felt that she had had a good life and couldn't think of anything. I spewed out a few suggestions like a trip to Boston to see a show, a fine dinner out or perhaps a visit by the Chippendales? She looked at me and said "What do you want me to die of a heart attack?”. We discussed every detail of what she wanted to happen when the time came. We even selected the outfit she would wear, what songs to play, etc. She knew we would take care to give her a fitting honorable send off.
Up until the end of September 2016, she was in her home and still driving but the calls for help became more frequent. Soon, she was hospitalized and in a nursing home. Each time we visited, she would look at me with that deer in the headlights look and ask me if I had brought my 45. I'd try to change the subject but she told me straight out, she was ready and wanted to die. It was very hard but I fully respected her wish, knowing I could not expedite the outcome.
We promised her we would keep her comfortable and out of pain. We placed her in hospice and I made it very clear to the nurses what I had promised her. They did everything they could. Sadly, she slipped away from us on the night of November 5th, 2016. I was able to spend time with her, stroking her hair, which by this time had turned mostly gray. I didn't have to talk loud any more but I am convinced she still heard me.
On November 9th, one day after the Presidential election, and two days before her favorite holiday which was Veteran's Day, we had a special service for her with a full USAF Honor Guard and a live bugler playing Taps, not just a recording. I know she would have been proud and happy.
We plan to bury her remains on June 24th, 2017, which would have been her 86th birthday. I've made arrangements for another full USAF Honor Guard, a firing salute with another live bugler playing Taps.