Gilchrist recognizes that veterans have unique needs at the end of life. Our We Honor Veterans initiatives are designed to meet these needs and to thank veterans for their sacrifice and service. Our most recent veteran initiative— Operation Gratitude —focuses on engaging and educating younger generations about the sacrifices veterans have made in service of their country.
Through Operation Gratitude, Gilchrist partners with local schools, where volunteer veterans share their stories of military service with children. In return, the children make meaningful cards of gratitude for the seriously ill veterans served by Gilchrist, as well as for the veterans who attend our special events like Gilchrist’s Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration.
For our first Operation Gratitude visit, we met with students at City Springs Elementary School in Baltimore City. It was a magical day for all of us. Vietnam veterans Jonathan Panitz, Ed Kaplan, Ed Nolley and Paul Jarboe joined me and Gilchrist’s Volunteer Support team, along with Mary Somers—Gilchrist volunteer and daughter of a WWII veteran—for this day of “show and tell.”
I was honored to witness the beauty of the morning—from Ed Kaplan asking students who they thought the 18-year-old handsome man in the photo was (the children exclaimed, “It’s your son…No, your grandson!”) and then none of them believing Ed when he said it was him, to Jonathan helping students learn to say “hello” in languages from the four countries he traveled to while in the military.
As the students recited the Pledge of Allegiance, Ed Nolley let them hold the flag he received when he became a general. Paul showed them photos from his time in Vietnam. The children were attentive, engaged and asked many thoughtful questions, such as, “Did you have a best friend in Vietnam?” “Was it hard to leave your mom and dad?” And the expected, but still hard to answer, “Did you kill anyone?”
At the end of our day together, the students seemed to have a better understanding of what it meant for these veterans to serve our country and, in some cases, to come back to a country that did not thank them for their service or welcome them home. Our volunteer veterans were overwhelmed at how much the students were interested in their stories and how many of the students wanted to know when they were coming back.
After the visit, Gilchrist volunteer Mary Somers wrote to us about her memorable experience:
“I loved every minute of yesterday’s visit. City Springs really is a magical place…The children were completely engaged. They listened to every word.”
We look forward to handing out the cards of gratitude, made by the children, at Gilchrist’s inaugural Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day on March 30. We know that these cards will be genuine, sincere and heartfelt, and will help to bring healing to an older generation who we hope will finally feel appreciated by young and old.
Our volunteer veterans look forward to coming back to see their new friends at City Springs Elementary and Middle Schools and to share with them what it meant to the Vietnam veterans who received their beautiful cards. It is a powerful reminder of the importance of showing appreciation and gratitude and how much it means to those receiving it!
To learn more about Gilchrist’s Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration, visit gilchristcares.org/whvv.
Or to learn more about Gilchrist’s We Honor Veterans partnership, visit gilchristcares.org/whv.