“It was a moment that will go down in history as the most special one I’ve ever done because I know how much it meant to him with being a Vietnam Veteran and having never been thanked for his service in this way. The double ceremony was a double thank you, something he had never received until then.”
Veterans hold a special place in our hearts at Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region (HPCCR) and for each Veteran that comes under our care, we want to ensure they know how much their service is appreciated by their country. For this reason, we offer every one of our Veteran patients a pinning ceremony. The pinning ceremony thanks and celebrates those brave individuals who gave so much of themselves in defense of their country. In their final moments, we want them to know they are honored – never forgotten.
The pinning ceremony is performed in partnership with the We Honor Veterans Program to honor each Veteran patient’s service to our country. The ceremonies themselves are as unique as the individuals who served and range from intimate gatherings to large events with flags and full-dress uniforms.
Over the years, we have seen the “Power of the Pin,” as, in that moment the pin is given, the realization in our Veterans faces is just everything we strive for when caring for these amazing servicemen and women. But, for Vietnam Veterans, that moment is even more special as, sadly, most Vietnam Veterans have never been thanked for their service.
And so, we would like to share the pinning ceremony experience of a very special Veteran, Steve, who is a Veteran of the United States Army having served in Vietnam as a member of the 82nd Airborne Division – that’s right – he was a parachute jumper! Steve was extremely proud of his service to our country and while Vietnam Veterans rarely want to talk about their time serving, Susan Anderson, an HPCCR Social Worker of 17 years, found that he wanted to talk about it and was pleasantly surprised to be offered a pinning ceremony in his honor. What we did not know at the time was that Steve’s pinning ceremony would become a two-part ceremony.
Steve suffered from ALS, a progressive disease affecting the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. His condition made it difficult to move and speak, but over Susan’s time caring for Steve, she found that he would express his feelings by giving a thumbs-up. He could also communicate by writing with one finger on a pad.
COVID-19 presented challenges to arranging Steve’s pinning ceremony as, at the time, there were limitations as to how many individuals could be inside a patient’s home and the Veterans Heart Group Volunteers were limited in visiting patients indoors. In many instances, there was the simple solution of moving the ceremony outside, but the weather was not on our side - it was March and cold and rainy. This is how Steve’s ceremony became a two-parter; Susan was determined he was going to have his pinning ceremony with the Veterans Heart Group.
Susan and a Chaplain of HPCCR performed a small pinning ceremony for Steve in his home. They presented him with a beautiful pin in recognition of his service, a ball cap with a silhouette of the American Flag embroidered on it, a certificate, and a handmade patriotic quilt designed by the Charlotte Quilters Guild. Steve’s expressions during the ceremony said it all - he was deeply moved - and communicated it in his own special way – with a thumbs-up!
After 6 weeks of caring for Steve, Susan was to say goodbye as she had been filling in for a Social Worker on leave. She promised that there would be a second ceremony; she wanted this amazing Veteran to have his salute!
After learning that the Social Worker on leave would not be returning and that she would continue her care for Steve, Susan was overjoyed! She wanted to surprise him. She visited him in his home, and he lit up! They got busy planning part two of Steve’s ceremony with a date set for the following Thursday.
It was becoming apparent that Steve’s time with us was uncertain and after two hospitalizations, one of which was on the Thursday they had planned for the second pinning ceremony, Susan knew how important this time was; she promised she would make this happen, and that’s exactly what she would do…but she had to act fast.
When Steve was released from the hospital to Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster, Susan acted quickly. She reached out to Elise Hurst, Director of Volunteer Services at HPCCR, the Veterans Heart Group, and Audrey White, Clinical Director of Levine & Dickson Hospice House at Southminster. Together, they worked to coordinate Steve’s second ceremony, working carefully within COVID guidelines to give him what turned out to be one of the most memorable ceremonies Susan had ever witnessed.
Susan sprang into action to move all the planned festivities to the following Tuesday. Special permission was granted to the Veterans Heart Group to come into the facility, travel plans were made for family members to be in attendance, all the supplies were gathered – everything was in place – and now everyone prayed that it would be in time, that they would give Steve the honor he very much deserved, that his condition would hold…Tuesday could not come quickly enough.
Tuesday morning, everyone arrived early. The Veterans Heart Group Volunteer Veterans were ready. Steve’s son and two grandsons arrived from Alabama and Florida. One grandson currently serves in the military, which made this ceremony even more special as having a family member present to give a salute – well, that just means everything.
Finally, it was time to visit Steve. When they entered his room, his eyes were closed. They carefully laid the patriotic quilt over him, and Susan leaned over to gently say “Steve, they are here for your ceremony.” He perked up with pride and listened as Susan read a poem of gratitude for not only his service, but for his grandsons as well. Again, he was
presented with a pin, an embroidered ball cap, a certificate, the patriotic quilt, and heartwarming appreciation for his service from all in attendance. When the Veterans Heart Group Volunteer Veterans and his grandson offered their salute, Steve saluted back and gave a double thumbs-up! There was not a dry eye in the room. They had given him the honor that was due to him, and everyone was moved to see him not only salute but give his double thumbs-up.
After the ceremony ended, Susan pinned the grandson as well and thanked him for his service.
As Susan recounts “It was a moment that will go down in history as the most special one I’ve ever done because I know how much it meant to him with being a Vietnam Veteran and having never been thanked for his service in this way. The double ceremony was a
double thank you, something he had never received until then.” Susan continues “That beautiful We Honor Veterans Pin is a life-changer for Veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam. The Power of the Pin changes their life as does the power of saying thank you to a Vietnam Veteran. He mustered all that strength to salute and give a double thumbs-up.”
In memory of Steve and his valued service.
United States Army Vietnam Veteran
82nd Airborne Division