Sunday, March 2, 2008

Phone Call with a Friend

I called my old friend again today. He appears, at the age of 91, to be fading. His daughter is caring for him pretty much round the clock. When she's not able to, he's shut into his room for his own safety. It's sad how the U.S. just doesn't seem to have many facilities that can care for old veterans. Or maybe we do, and this particular family does not know where to find the facility. My friend is in the advanced stages of dementia. I try to call him every week but sometimes I'm unable to get an answer at his end. He lives with his daughter and son-in-law, and has for many years. I talk to his daughter each time, too, and try to give her my support and prayers. She is at her wit's end much of the time, dealing with this old man who is her father.

When I first met him, he was fully functional, if a tad eccentric. He drove himself around, flirted with the ladies in the Post Office, looked for good deals on vitamins, and loved life. He was nominated for a Congressional Medal of Honor, but didn't get it. Instead, he got a post office named after him in Florida. He loved to have people recognize him in his 'First B-17's over Berlin' ballcap or take notice of his Purple Heart license plates, which hinted at the horrific story of an event 20,000 feet over Germany in 1943. When he returned to the States after that terrifying tour, he swore he'd never go back into combat. A few months later, he was flying B-26 missions over France, doing more than any one man should ever have to.

In the past year and a half, he has lost the ability to drive, to go anywhere alone, or even to have his own phone line. His doctor wants him to leave his TV on so that he is stimulated, but he turns it off and goes to bed, earlier each night. Then he gets up during the night and wanders the room, looking out onto the back lawn.

Before I called today, he's always had vivid recall of his days in the skies over Europe in World War II, regaling me with stories and off-color jokes for hours, despite the fact that he had trouble remembering things from the present. Today, it appeared he had forgotten not just the present day, but also most of the past. I tried over and over to bring up stories he could connect with, and he finally grasped at one and remembered the event, from VE Day, 1945, when he was on his second combat tour in Rheims, France--the city where the Armistace was signed.

Tomorrow I'm going to send him a photo of me, so when he talks to me next, as we have for so many hundreds of times over the years, he can remember what I look like. It's sad watching my old friend gliding slowly into the twilight, but it's a journey he will not be making alone. I'm signed on for the duration.

We have a lunch date in June, and we both intend to keep it.


Les said...

These are somewhat familiar circumstances to me, Rob, but unlike between my grandfather & I, which was family, the bond you are experiencing is friendship. What better friend could this man have during this time? I can't think of any.

Without you, many of us would not know of him. Without him, we would not be free. God Bless you both during this trying but blessed time. -Les

Corbin Choate said...

Have you considered putting his combat experiences in a book?

Les said...

Hello Corbin. Perhaps I shouldn't chime in on Rob's behalf, but Rob has written a book about this great man. Actually, the great man wrote the book and Rob was the medium putting his stories in writing:

As far as I know, the book hasn't been well received yet, but that is no failing of Rob's. The public just hasn't "gotten it" yet. It's a wonderful book, especially considering the friendship Rob has with this hero. Highly Recommended.

O.K. I'll shut up now and let Rob speak for himself. -Les

r morris said...

Hi Corbin.
Les said it all.
I think you'd like the book. It covers all this man's military experiences---and he lived most of the history of the Air Corps in Europe. Go to the websites Les gave to find out more.
Thanks for your interest.