David and I have taken to the open road for the month of October – not in the motor home, but in the car. At first I hesitated to write about our trip, thinking my articles might attract the criminal element, but the home place is protected by our resident attack Kitty and lots of observant neighbors.
While we don’t have a set travel itinerary, we do have a couple of primary goals. The main one as far as I’m concerned is spending time with the grandkids – and their parents, of course. A close second, at least for David, is visiting with several Navy buddies he has reconnected with on the Internet.
We were supposed to see Doug while we were in Denver, but the schedules didn’t mesh. Doug was a fellow AOCS student – Aviation Officer Candidate School for the uninformed like me. They talked by phone Saturday night, first making plans for us to meet on our way back to Texas, and then spending twenty minutes or so sharing memories and news from the years since school. David and Doug never actually served together beyond the sixteen weeks of intense officer training, but there is an amazing bond that has survived for over forty years.
I recently witnessed another example of the power of the military bond. Robert “Bob” Dewbre was born in May, Texas, in 1925. He was inducted into the Navy in the fall of 1943, the same year he married Norma Jean Bass. He never saw overseas duty, serving out his two years and five months in Kingsville and Corpus Christi, Texas. Two years into his enlistment, he received orders to ship out, but the war ended the next day, so he remained stateside.
After his honorable discharge in February of 1946, Bob served as deputy sheriff in Baton Rouge. Later, he worked for Ethyl Corporation in Baton Rouge and Kelly Springfield Tires in Tyler. He also raised a family, David Dewbre of Athens and Peggy Chaney of Carrollton. Peggy and her husband James were our neighbors for several years, and both of them were featured several times in my book.
In spite of all the other hats he wore, though, Bob never lost his identity as a military man – but now he’s fighting another kind of battle. Several years ago, his health began to fail, both physically and mentally. Earlier this year, with Peggy’s help, Bob and his bride of seventy-two years sold their home in East Texas and moved into a senior living complex near Peggy.
Like many Baby Boomers, Peggy became a family caregiver, able to watch her dad’s declining health and his rapid descent into the grip of Alzheimer’s and multi-infarct dementia but unable to do anything about it. His increasing care needs began to take a toll on his wife, and Peggy made the difficult decision to move him into a nursing facility. Private care was beyond Bob’s budget, so a couple of weeks ago, Peggy moved him into the Clyde Cosper Texas State Veterans Home in Bonham, leaving Norma Jean in a smaller apartment in Carrollton.
Wife and daughter grieved over the move, worrying that it would increase Bob’s confusion and lack of motivation. The staff at his new home reassured them that he would be fine, but they also requested that they stay away for seventy-two hours to give him time to adjust. Both women fretted and worried as they counted the minutes until the next visit, and then Peggy sent me this email:
Well, God continues to amaze me! Mom and I went to visit dad today and could not believe the change in him. He was talking up a storm (although repetitively so at times), completing sentences like he has not done in a long time and cracking jokes. We could not believe he was so communicative! I even asked the nurse if they were giving him something other than his usual meds because of his much improved behavior/attitude and they are not. She said it was likely due to all the men there and the fact they don’t let him sit in his room looking at the four walls and watching TV all day long.
It seems that contact with other veterans had worked in a way that doctors and medications could not. Sunday morning, as David and I were driving north on I25 toward Wyoming, I asked him what he thought was the cement behind this bond of military brothers that defies times, distance, and even plaque encrusted nerve tangles that take away the memories of a lifetime. Here’s the general idea of what he said.
The connection comes from the camaraderie and common bond of shared situations and experiences – even when those involved didn’t serve together. It’s similar to playing a sport but much more intense. Both relationships involve watching each other’s backs, but the military involves life and death situations.
As an outsider, it seems to me that putting your life on the line for something bigger than yourself requires a person to reach deep inside and find out what’s there. Being in military service seems to define a person in a way nothing else does. Along with her email, Peggy sent me a picture of Bob, looking fit and happy, wearing a Navy cap, and saluting anyone who might see the portrait. The caption she attached said “You can’t keep a Navy man down!”
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