Appalachia Holidays in Appalachia Pap

Veterans – I Thank You For Your Service

veterans day in appalachia

The good doctors at the VA Hospital in Oteen took good care of Pap’s medical needs over the years. Whether you’re going for a doctor’s appointment in the outpatient area or visiting the inpatient floors going to a large VA Hospital is always a humbling experience.

By far the majority of patients at the Oteen VA are elderly men. There are some women sprinkled in and some younger vets too, but mostly it’s old men. I was always struck by their voices. Some grown shaky with age; some so strong and vibrant it was easy to visualize them in their soldier boy uniforms standing at attention.

It’s funny how the different branches of service seek each other out and sort of eerie how they seem to know if their neighbor in the waiting room is a leather neck, a ground pounder, or fly boy.

Due to Pap’s health, I’ve been at the VA in Oteen for extended periods of time over the years. As I sat in the waiting rooms I would listen to snatches of conversation as families and friends talked of their loved one who were sick.

I also listened in as the Vets talked one with another. You could always hear a man or woman asking the others where they were stationed and what year they served. The answers always brought about talk of rations or meals, of memorable Sergeants, and trips to distant lands. Often the good folks who work at the VA joined in the conversation as many of them are Vets who are still serving, now taking care of those they used to stand beside in the chow line.

After every visit we made to the VA there were always folks who stood out in my mind over the days and weeks that followed. Like the gentleman from Franklin who was discharged at the same time Pap was. We all joked about how we were going in the same direction once we left Asheville for home.

There was the patient in the bed across the way who looked so frail and weak I wonder how long he made it, but knew his wife and daughter would be there to comfort him and each other no matter what happened.

There was the young tattooed janitor who entertained Pap and me with his out going personality and obvious gift for gab. He was in awe of Pap because he was a Marine. He told us he’d never get over having his childhood dreams of wearing Marine dress blues crushed by type two diabetes.

One Vet stands out in my mind from several years back.

He was a tall gangly old man who could barely walk. His daughter helped him shuffle along with a walker. Once he got seated in the chair by Pap they began to compare stories of service. The old man told Pap he was at Normandy and that all four of his siblings had served too. Even his two sisters had been nurses in the war. He said they all come back home except both the sisters’ husbands.

What gifts of service the man and his family gave! What sticks out in my mind till this day is the way he talked to Pap about it. He talked like it was just yesterday or last week; like he and his siblings were all still young; like they were recently home after having marched off to war for the good of me.

At Oteen I looked at the old veterans and thought “They made it.” Every one of them came back home and the loved ones who hovered around them in hopes that their pain would be lessened is evidence that most of them went on to have a good lives.

My wish for all those who are serving now is that they come home and live long lives surrounded by family and friends who love them and that someday they become the old Vets at the VA talking about their past service with their comrades.

To ALL Veterans young and old – I THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE.





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  • Reply
    eva m. wike
    November 12, 2017 at 7:44 pm

    Tipper: You certainly capture the heartfelt responses to the hard times Veterans face! Just a few weeks ago we laid our dear brother to rest and it just doesn’t seem right, that he is no longer with us! He always told childhood stories and made us laugh! Now I want to send these notes to my youngest brother who spent many years in the Viet Nam conflict! Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    November 12, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Enjoyed your post, Tipper. When you mentioned the VA hospital in Oteen, it rang a bell. My husband’s grandfather, Andrew Smart, was a veteran of WWI and he went into the VA hospital in Oteen when he had tuberculous. And, unfortunately that is where he died.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    November 11, 2017 at 11:45 pm

    On a lighter note my father served his time on an island in the south Pacific. He was in the artillery battery. He and his companions were guards for a huge gun emplacement on an island in the Bismark Archipelago. His duties were to fend off any Japanese that might attack. He claimed to have never seen the enemy. The gun he guarded fired shells that went over the horizon and and hopefully landed on enemy ships sailing toward Bougainville Island where a battle did take place. He said they just fired the guns where they told but were never told whether they hit anything or anybody.
    The island he was stationed on might have had a name but he didn’t know it. It was a few degrees south the equator, northeast of Papua New Guinea. Heat and insects were his and his fellow soldiers’ worst enemy. That and the not knowing what was happening in the rest of the world.
    Daddy wasn’t one to drink alcohol at all but he had to at times during his service. The island had no source of potable water. Water had to come to them by ship along with beer. When they ran out of water they drank beer. Daddy had to or die.
    Daddy had almost total hearing loss in one ear and half in the other. That came from the overwhelming sound that the big guns made. He could and did cover his ears when he knew they were firing but being out on the perimeter he couldn’t see or hear the orders to fire. He wasn’t eligible for disability because having your ears shaken apart by friendly fire wasn’t considered a disability at the time.
    Daddy didn’t dodge bullets, grenades or bayonets but he encountered disease bearing insects, tremendous heat and day after day of sheer boredom.
    I said there was a lighter side. Even though Daddy had been stationed on the other side of the planet, even though they fired shells that were aimed at ships below the horizon, he still professed to believe that the world was flat. No matter how hard us kids tried to convince him otherwise he never changed. He went to his grave believing the Earth was flat. In my later years I too have converted to his theory, almost. The Earth is flat in a convex sort of way.

  • Reply
    David Templeton
    November 11, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    Such good thoughts from your readers, Tipper. So good a post from you. Thank you.
    I am, we are, ever mindful of our soldiers … past and present; knowing that this wonderful country owes its existence to them. God goes with them.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2017 at 4:06 pm

    Thanks to all the veterans for their service. I guess I grew up taking for granted that my Dad was in combat in WW11. He never talked about it, and the only one he stayed in touch with was the mother of his best friend who was killed in action. He had a couple of brothers in service also, and one had written my mother when he could not find out if my dad was on the Leopoldville when it sank. They are all deserving of our thanks and respect
    I would be honored to win one of Pap’s cds.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    A wonderful column about people who deserve more thanks than we can ever give them. How special it must be for you to watch videos or listen to cds made by your favorite veteran. I would treasure my own copy of his last cd—I enjoy the music you post so much.

  • Reply
    Dee Parks
    November 11, 2017 at 2:06 pm

    I so appreciated your blog on Veterans! When I looked at Pap’s picture, I thought well that uniform and hat looks like my brother’s picture taken when he was in training at Parris Island, S.C. When I read on down I saw that he indeed was a Marine. You are correct – different branches of the Service do seek each other out. I remember my brother worked diligently every year up to his death for Toys for Tots. I also remember my Uncle who was in the Air Force. His plane was shot down over the Marshall Islands. (The Gilbert and Marshall Islands Campaign were a series of battles fought from November 1943 through February 1944, in the Pacific Theater of World War II between the United States and the Empire of Japan.) His parents back in MS were notified that he was missing in action, later that his plane was shot down with no survivors. The island was covered up with Japanese at that time and it was 8 years later that his dear mother and father were notified that they had found his tags and were sending back some bones. My heart went out to my grandmother and grandfather, & his brothers and sister, as they had to go thru this again but finally had closure. Some of his remains were brought back with his being laid to rest in the Corinth National Cemetery, MS. I remember reading his last letter home when I was a teenager. In it he remarked, Papa, I won’t mind cleaning off those ditch banks at all and am looking forward to getting back home. A big thank you to all the Veterans out there that served before and are serving now. “God Bless You!”

  • Reply
    November 11, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    I’m so Thankful for you. And I Love Pap too, as we all do.
    In the late 70’s I worked behind the Veterans Hospital in Oteen and each day driving by, I felt like I was on Hallowed Ground. Working at Die-Mold Corporation, several of us got friendly with the Security Guard or Grounds Keeper, and he would leave the Gate open for us to go into the Cafeteria at dinner time. We sat with a whole bunch of Doctors and they accepted us as one of their own. I never knew any of the Veterans that were there, but we honored them all. …Ken P.S. Happy Veteran’s Day to everyone!

  • Reply
    harry adams
    November 11, 2017 at 10:52 am

    My draft lottery number was high enough that I was lucky in not becoming a veteran or casualty of Vietnam. I will however never stop appreciating all of those who have served in the military. I have a high school friend who was drafted and luckily served in Europe. I caught back up with him at our 50th reunion and have since had discussions about his service life.
    We think of how they put their lives on line, but they also put careers and family on hold. Their life paths are often sent in a new direction.
    If only it were a requirement of office that the politicians would have to have served, then they might not be so open to starting wars they can’t get our soldiers out of. Above all when I hear the Star Spangled Banner, I am proud to be American and think of all the men and women who have fought to keep the country alive.
    Thanks to all veterans who have served or are serving to allow me to live the best country in the world. I’ve been to a lot of countries and this is by far with all our problems still the best.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    November 11, 2017 at 10:48 am


  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    November 11, 2017 at 10:08 am

    Many thanks to all of our Veterans for their sacrifice to our country.

  • Reply
    Charles Ronald Perry, Sr.
    November 11, 2017 at 10:01 am

    I wasn’t in combat during my 4 years in the Marines 1954 – 1958 but I served with many who had. This is the best country in the world and our military is number one

  • Reply
    November 11, 2017 at 9:49 am

    Amen, thank you & God Bless!!

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    November 11, 2017 at 9:10 am

    On 2 April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson addressed Congress. Telling the nation that his policy of “armed neutrality” had failed, he asked Congress to declare war on Germany and her allies.
    “With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war.
    “The day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.”
    In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    November 11, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Your story reminds me once again of a story in Reader’s Digest many years ago. (Which I may have posted about before.) The title was “Sarge”, about a man in a burn unit who had been badly burned about the face and hands. The writer of the story was a women also badly burned but not as badly as Sarge. He started bringing her coffee every morning, joking with her, encouraging her through the painful stages. After several weeks, he made a passing comment about his wife teaching at Tuskegee.
    She said, “But Sarge, isn’t that a black school?”
    He replied, “Yes ma’am. What color did you think I was?”
    There is a fellowship between those who served into which someone like myself, who did not, cannot intrude and do not belong. They earned it and I’m glad it is theirs. One of the things they teach us is to appreciate the “little” things, the things they wanted when they were far from home.
    No doubt that on Veterans Day many of them think about the ones who didn’t come home.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2017 at 8:36 am

    My cousin had great health insurance from his employer, yet he chose to be treated at the VA clinic and hospital in Louisville. Those guys must be the best, because my cousin is not the only person who has praised their care.
    Thank God for the men and women who left their loved ones here at home as they traveled to some far away land to fight for our freedom. They deserve the best of everything for the rest of their life!

  • Reply
    Eleanor Loos. Columbia Station OH
    November 11, 2017 at 8:16 am

    What a nice tribute you delivered for our veterans today, Tipper. It certainly encourages me to appreciate them all.

  • Reply
    November 11, 2017 at 8:16 am

    Very well said, Tipper. I have a hard time writing about this, but you’ve said everything I feel – thank you so much.

  • Reply
    Barb Wright
    November 11, 2017 at 8:09 am

    Fitting that you talk about Marines sticking together..our next door neighbor’s wife passed last week , at age 93. He was a Marine. At the viewing, there was a line up of elderly Marines to greet the visitors. I was impressed! We are a small town of less than 3,000. Some of those men were frail, but they stood there! Tough ol’ fellows !! Thank you to ALL our Veterans for their service.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    November 11, 2017 at 7:21 am

    Yes, Tipper, a big thanks to all our Veterans….without them we wouldn’t be here!

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