Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Heroes in My Eyes--Spending Father's Day in the V.A. Hospital

I am spending Father’s Day with my Dad in the V.A. hospital.  Kind of a crappy place for a guy to have to be on Father’s Day—in the hospital.  But if you have to be in a medical facility anywhere, this is the one you want: The William S. Middleton Memorial Veterans hospital in Madison, WI, one of 152 V.A. Medical Centers throughout the U.S.  

V.A. hospitals don’t always come with a good rap. An ABC News report a couple of years ago said some were in “shocking shape,” describing horrendous conditions and incompetence in facilities around the country.  And certainly medical care for our military veterans has not always appeared to be a priority in Congress as evidenced by the number of closures of veterans’ medical facilities over the years and how hard communities have to fight to keep theirs open (just google “fight to keep V.A. hospital open” and see how many articles come up; too many for me to cite.)  But this hospital—the one in Madison—is awesome.

V.A. hospitals serve those who served our country. The men and women who use these facilities are the disabled vets, those whose lives were forever altered one way or another during their time at war. These people have faced situations most of us could never dream, or have nightmares, of.  Many other vets use V.A. hospitals and medical services for a variety of other reasons as well.

Walter P. Joque
U.S. Army Air Corps
My Dad, Walter P. Joque, served as a navigator/bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps (the forerunner of the current Air Force) during WWII.  In 1943, he was assigned to the 319th Bomb Group in the European theater and was stationed on the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean.  On May 12, 1943 while flying his 33rd combat mission, his plane—a B26 Martin Marauder--was shot down over Italy, killing the co-pilot.  Dad managed to bail out, but his parachute didn’t open properly and the landing caused back problems that plagued him for the rest of his life.  Upon landing, he was captured by the Germans and spent the rest of the war in a German POW camp.  At one point his mother and his family had been told he was killed when his plane crashed. I can only imagine the heart-break they went through, the joy at learning he was still alive, and the worry while he was imprisoned.  After the war, he was awarded a Purple Heart, a Bronze Star, the French Croix de Guerre, among others.

Dad is a hero to our family: his kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids.  But he is not unique in this medical facility. Everyone here has their own story.  Some of the stories may not be as dramatic as my Dad’s, but by the very fact that they volunteered, gave up their private lives, and in many cases left their families and homes to serve in dangerous locations on behalf of our country makes each of them heroes.

The other heroes in this hospital are the doctors and nurses who serve the veterans, especially the nurses. They put in long hours and work with people who often have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) symptoms on top of their physical maladies. It takes a lot of patience to work with a 95 year old man with Alzheimer’s and a broken hip who’s reactions to pain and stress are more like those of a child than the hardened soldier he once was.  But that’s the reality here.
I don’t know about other V.A. facilities. I can only hope they are all as good as this one. The medical staff here treats this old man like the hero his family knows he is.  They care for him with dignity, patience and respect. And that is the least we can give our seniors, the least we must give our veterans.

Walter P. Joque
Sadly, in this political climate seniors are often shunted aside.  Social Security and Medicare are constantly on the chopping block, nursing homes are underfunded and in-home care attendants underpaid.  Communities and veterans have to fight to keep their medical centers open after having fought in horrendous wars to keep our country safe.  I sometimes think that as a nation we have lost our moral compass.  Our priorities have gotten mightily screwed up when we spend more time legislating what goes on in people’s bedrooms than finding solutions to ensuring that our seniors and our veterans can live out their lives in dignity, health and with a deserving quality of life.

But in this small part of America, here at the William S. Middleton Memorial V.A. Hospital I see heroes all around me: my Dad, the men and women who have come to this facility for care, and the medical and support staff who have dedicated their careers to providing that care. On this Father's Day you are all heroes to me. 


  1. Very nice post about your father. Thanks for sharing this!

    1. Thank you, Darlene, for taking time to read my blog.

  2. What an inspiration your father's story is, Peggy! Thank you for sharing it.

    Let's also do all we can to keep our veterans, as well as all other elders well-cared for, as you propose.

    Ann (the "other grandma")

    1. Hey, Ann! Thanks for checking in and for sharing your perspective.