BATH — It all started as a way to honor our veterans three years ago.
The Wayland Lighthouse Wesleyan Church began making crafts and providing word puzzle books to veterans in the Bath Va Medical Center as a way to give back to our heroes.
On June 24 several church members provided a small act of kindness to those in the nursing home facility on the Bath Va Medical Center.
Dr. Rick Parker served in the US Navy for 24 years, and understands how important it is to reach out to fellow soldiers.
“We looked around one year at what we could do to get the kids involved in honoring our veterans,” he said. “This is something we put a lot of time and effort into doing. The first year the kids at the church did crafts for them. We took it over to share with the veterans. The veterans really loved having the kids there the first year.”
Parker added that they gather things for the veterans such as cards, word puzzle books, snacks, and other things.
“We like to let them know that we are thinking of them,” he said. “We provided about 50 or 60 cards written by members at the church to each veteran. There are a lot of veterans with physical and mental issues that are in need there. We want them to know that they matter.”
Parker said that he looks forward to this every year, and showing the veterans that we honor the sacrifices they made.
Parker has a special story of survival to tell about his time in the US Navy in 1991.
“Our helicopter was malfunctioning and we crashed into the ocean. We had been out doing a trainings mission. For some reason the helicopter started heading for the ocean,” he said. “We had crashed, and the helicopter started to fill with water. I sat there thinking this was it. That I was on my way to see The Lord. Luckily the helicopter did not tip over, and I was working on helping the injured men. I had managed to get out of the helicopter with water up to my chest. As I was helping the injured man I lost my wedding ring in the ocean.”
“Another helicopter picked us up and took us back to the base. I had lost my glasses, and needed my wife to bring me more clothes. My wife was very upset I was in a helicopter crash,” Parker continued. “Thankfully no one had life-threatening injuries, and everyone survived that crash. A few days later I was asked if I wanted to go back to the scene of the crash. There were swimmers in the ocean picking up pieces of debris. They had heard I lost my wedding ring, and told me I would never find it in the coral.”
“I told them that I knew someone who could help me find it. I swam to where I thought the ring might be, and I asked The Lord to help me find it,” Parker concluded. “The sun came out, and I noticed a glimmer in the shape of a ring. I reached under the coral to get my wedding ring. Once I came up with the ring they were all in shock. I told them The Lord helped me find it. A week later when I was working in the clinic a lady came up to me asking if I could help her find her jewelry that was lost in the ocean.”
Mary Parker, Rick’s wife, said that the mission to help veterans at the Bath Va Medical Center came out of an idea for Vacation Bible School three years ago.
“We made a garden of thanks in Vacation Bible School for the veterans. The kids put it all together with paper flowers,” she said. “The children went with us the first time. After that we had the theme Never Forget, and we had about 20 members go with us that time. Now our theme is Always Remember- Grateful.”
Mary Parker said the children colored photos this time around, and they were put on a board to set up at the Bath Va Medical Center.
“This really is a blessing to all of us to be able to do this. There are about 55 veterans in the nursing home there,” she said. “We leave goodies for the staff members, and we leave cards and word puzzle books for the veterans. Some of the veterans will get into telling you war stories.”
There was a request sent out to have people come down and visit with the veterans. Some of them don’t have any family that visits. Some of them are in hospice care. Some are just happy to tell their stories.
Matt Leszyk, Bath Va Medical Center Recreation Therapist said he has enjoyed working with the veterans for 22 years now.
“I was looking for something else to do. I worked with the developmentally disabled for eight years before coming here,” he said. “I came here 22 years ago, and I have enjoyed working with the veterans ever since.”
US Army Veteran Amalia Pellon has been a resident at the nursing home for 23 years now, and she has been the official welcomer of visitors to the wards.
“I served in the US Army from 1960 until 1964. My job was to send men over the Vietnam,” she said. “The whole time I served I was stateside.”
Pellon prides herself on her collection of stuffed animals, Elvis Presley, and Americana.
US Navy Veteran Don Smith served in WWII during the infamous D-Day.
“I served my country from WWII until 1995. I was there in Normandy during the D-Day,” he said. “My son did two tours in the Vietnam War.”
Smith is known as 44 in the nursing home since he drove an 18 wheeler for 44 years.
As the Wayland Lighthouse Wesleyan Church made their way through all three wards they listened to the stories of the veterans. Many of these men and women served in Vietnam War or Korean War. The younger veterans who come to the Bath Va Medical Center are there for PTSD or drug rehab treatment. They only stay in the facility for the most of 30 days. Some of them live in the dorms during that time.