Veterans Day can often bring out tears for many different reasons.
2021 was no different.
Sanford Health, a health care provider that has consistently supported veterans, wanted to make the day special for those veterans who were spending the day in its hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Leaders organized the delivery of hand-knit shawls.
A mutual respect
Jake Sheffield is the communications and electronic technical services department manager at Sanford Health. He also served for two and a half years in the Marine Corps. His day-to-day duties normally include fixing all devices that need fixing, like medical devices or even a computer or phone.
On Veterans Day, though, his job changed. He helped to organize and carry out the delivery of hand-knit shawls to veterans. With each delivery came the chance to talk with fellow veterans. Sheffield said it was enlightening to learn more about them and their stories, all while offering them a small gift of gratitude.
“Hearing some of the stories from patients, a few that have served in Vietnam, that’s a different time and era. What those veterans went through is still incredible to me. So, we get to recognize them by giving them some great hand-made shawls, to make sure they know they’re welcome here at Sanford,” Sheffield said.
Dave Tank was one of the veterans who served in Vietnam. He said camaraderie between veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam, has been important to him.
“When we came back, it was hard to come back into the country and be welcomed the way we were at that time, because of the situation. The people who come back from Iraq or Afghanistan were welcomed a lot better than we were,” he said.
After Tank had completed his interview with Sanford Health News, he crossed paths with another veteran, Michael Brown. In the short interaction the two had, the connection and mutual respect they had for one another was palpable.
“It’s that look you get when you see another vet. You know that he’s a vet. It’s an instant bond, (and an) experience that everybody’s been through. You know what’s going on. It’s real bonding experience,” he said.
Small gesture, big impact
Tank explained it was an emotional week for him. Not only because of Veterans Day and the memories that come with it, but because of why he was commemorating Veterans Day at Sanford Health.
“I came into Sanford on Sunday for a kidney transplant, I found out I had stage four kidney disease in September, and I was put on a list for a kidney. I was very fortunate to find one right away. So, I had the operation on Sunday night and now I’m recovering,” he said through tears.
Some might say handing out shawls or saying a simple “thank you” is a small gesture. Tank said even small gestures can make the biggest impact.
“It’s one of those things where I think about it more now than when I did when I first came home in ’69. You’re young, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. But now, you think back about it and what you went through. You see the injuries some people have. Some were killed. You think about them when somebody comes to you and thanks you for your service,” he said.
Brown was drafted in the United States Army in 1969 and discharged in 1976. He served as an emergency responder, but was always a “solider first,” doing whatever was needed. Brown was at Sanford for Veterans Day because he was recovering from a tracheal removal.
While he certainly wouldn’t mind being somewhere else for Veterans Day, he couldn’t be happier he was at Sanford.
“I’ve worked at 20 hospitals in my life. As far as I’m concerned, this is the best hospital I’ve ever been. I’m not saying that because I’ve got their hat on. I’m saying that because I’ve received great care, great compassion, and I’m getting fully recovered,” he said.
“Sanford does a great job not only in hiring veterans for jobs, internships, mentorships, but it supports veterans like this activity today. Receiving a wonderful blanket from volunteers in the red, white, and blue is a great honor for me. I have a Broncos blanket at home on my couch. It’s being replaced on Monday,” he added.
A way to give back
Irene Metson has been volunteering at Sanford Health since 2010. She helped to hand-knit the shawls passed out to the hospitalized veterans.
The reason why? She’s forever indebted to American soldiers and wants to support them in whatever way possible.
They saved her life when she was a little girl.
Metson was born in Czechoslovakia. When the United States entered the country to free western Czechoslovakia from the Nazi German regime, she interacted with an American solider daily.
He was her best friend at the time. She’d go and talk to this solider daily. He’d give her chocolate, crackers, water, and the gift of conversation. Something that was hard to come by at that time, Metson said.
“I kept telling my mom ‘He is one of us! He talked as good as German as I did, so he couldn’t have been the enemy,’” she said.
Metson said she thinks about that solider often, and especially during Veterans Day. When asked what she would say to him if she had the chance, through tears, she said, “I’d just hug him.”
Metson would encourage anyone who sees a veteran to thank them for their service because, she said, “the veterans deserve that.”
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