Richard Wright served in the Army Air Corps, precursor to the US Air Force.
He is currently in hospice care at Parker, an assisted living facility in downtown Greenville.
On the eve of Veterans Day, in the facility’s living room, Richard and half a dozen of his fellow citizens – also veterans – were honored for their service, with a salute and a thank you of about a dozen of their fellow veterinarians.
Several times a week, volunteers from the Last Veterans Patrol gather somewhere upstate for an honor ceremony, as part of the upstate-based group’s mission to s ensure that no veteran faces end-of-life care without the friendship, honor and support of a comrade. military veteran.
Ceremonies are just one of the programs that VLP runs, including coordinating one-on-one visits between volunteer veterans and veterans in nursing or hospice care and an annual campaign called “Operation Holiday Salute,” which annually sends cards to thousands of veterans on their last Patrol.
One of the veterans saluting Wright and the others was Roger Williams, the upstate captain for VLP.
Williams was on the crew of a C-141 Starlifter military transport plane during his Vietnam War-era service in the Air Force. Thereafter, he began a career as a design engineer.
A few years ago, he worked for the Schmid Corporation, a machinery manufacturing company in Spartanburg owned by Claude Schmid.
“Take care of each other until the end”
Schmid, also known as “The Colonel”, retired from the military in 2013 after 31 years in the military, serving in combat units around the world. He led the operation that evacuated the wounded from combat areas, where he gained much experience meeting and assisting wounded warriors on their way to medical attention.
After retiring, he began working as a volunteer, visiting veterans in hospice care.
“I found out pretty quickly that there was a huge shortage of volunteers,” Schmid said. “Knowing what I know about the veteran community and the brotherhood between us, I said ‘this is just not fair. We must take care of each other until the end.
From that realization, Schmid founded Veterans Last Patrol in late 2018. It grew quickly and now has over 500 volunteers working in more than 25 states.
It also quickly became apparent that Schmid needed reinforcements.
Williams said he and a group of veterans have been meeting for lunch for years. Schmid joined them one day and presented a proposal for what became VLP.
Most of the band members were eager to volunteer their time, Williams said.
“Bustier being retired”
When Williams decided he was ready to retire after years of frequent business travel, Schmid offered him the opportunity to organize the activities of the last veteran patrol in Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson and the rest. upstate.
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Now, every Tuesday or Thursday, VLP volunteers honor veterans on their “last patrol” at a nursing home or other care facility, sometimes even at a veteran’s home where they are being cared for in hospice. .
Williams says VLP has become his primary occupation — and that of his wife, Kay, who Williams says volunteers as much, if not more, than he does.
Work keeps him moving – the backseat of his truck has become a mobile office where he keeps records of upcoming events and information about volunteers who plan to attend.
“Most retired people are busier being retired than they were when they were working,” Williams says.
For their tireless commitment to helping honor veterans, Williams, Schmid and Veteran’s Last Patrol were named the Greenville News Community Heroes of November.
The Community Hero program, sponsored by the Greenville Federal Credit Union, is a way to recognize the generous, noble, and selfless work of those of us who make our community a better place.
End of the trip
As a percentage of population, South Carolina has more veterans than all but a handful of states, or more than 350,000 in total.
Many of those who have served are nearing the end of their life journey.
Surviving World War II veterans are over 90, Korean War veterans are in their 80s and 90s, and even the youngest Vietnam War veterans are in their 60s and 70s. A large number of veterinarians in end-of-life care means Williams and her volunteers have a lot to do.
“A lot of the time we only get a few days’ notice,” Williams says. “If we’re having a hospice honor ceremony, we’re talking about end-of-life care and you never know…”
Williams recalls a ceremony about a year ago where the honoree died the morning of an honor ceremony, about an hour before the VLP volunteers arrived.
“There must have been 30 family members there and we continued the ceremony,” he said. “We ended up spending a lot of family time there.”
Willams says sometimes as many as 50 or 60 family members are gathered for an honoring ceremony, but sometimes there’s no one but the honoree.
“It’s really sad,” Williams said. “We’re trying to get as many of us together as possible for those.”
Gratitude… and Tears
Honor ceremonies offer certain items of recognition, often letters of appreciation or certificates. Hospice patients receive a handmade quilt of honor.
Kay Williams says the work is often as important to volunteers as it is to honored veterans.
“When we have the opportunity to stand in front of them and present them with certificates, give them a hug, wrap them in a quilt someone made for them, and participate in saying ‘thank you so much for this. what you have given for us, ‘tears come, both for the recipients and for those standing before them,’ she said.
Amy Howard is outreach coordinator for Providence Care in Simpsonville, one of dozens of upstate facilities where VLP works with residents. She says the volunteers have a unique veteran-to-veteran perspective.
“Often, our veterans are isolated. Often they prefer to just talk to another veteran,” says Howard. “We want to make sure we respect and honor them, especially as they approach the end of their lives. We want them to live their best days.
Howard said she contacted Schmid and the Last Veteran Patrol for help. “I’m so grateful. What a difference they made for these veterans.
Want to help?
The Last Veterans Patrol is collecting greeting cards to send to veterans in hospice or nursing care this year.
The goal of 4e The annual Operation Holiday Salute is to bring some holiday cheer to veterans on their last patrol.
Last year, VLP sent over 50,000 cards to veterans across the United States. You can write a message to a veteran, address it “Dear hero” or “Dear veteran” and send it before December 2 to: The Last Veteran Patrol 140B Venture Blvd. Spartanburg, SC 29306
More information available at veteranlastpatrol.org