From Baltimore to Texas: Gilchrist’s Inspiring Salute to Service Program

April 2, 2024, We Honor Veterans

From Baltimore to Texas: Gilchrist’s Inspiring Salute to Service Program

Over the last year, Michele Houck has undertaken an incredible journey, laying the foundation for a Salute to Service Veterans program in Wichita Falls, Texas. Her inspiration? A profoundly moving ceremony in February of 2023, orchestrated by the Veteran’s program at Gilchrist, honoring her father. As part of Gilchrist’s “We Honor Veterans” initiative, the Salute to Service program organizes volunteers who served in the U.S. military to host special ceremonies for seriously ill or dying veterans to show appreciation for all they’ve done for our country. Michele shares, “When Gilchrist was doing the Salute to Service for my father, we all forgot that he was dying. I want other families to feel the same way my brother and I felt that day and how important it was to our father to be honored like that.”

A Remarkable Man

Michele’s father was a remarkable man known for his humor and love for her mother. Robert Lee Ervin enlisted in the Navy at 18 years old, serving from 1949 to 1953 as an aviation storekeeper during the Korean War. Stationed at NAS Moffett Field in California, he earned the Good Conduct Medal for his exemplary service. A proud Navy veteran, he proudly sported his Navy veteran baseball hat wherever he went. Late in his life, Robert and his wife moved into an independent living facility, their only request being to stay together. However, as Robert fell ill and Michele’s mother developed dementia, they had to be separated. Gilchrist stepped in, and their impact on Michele’s family was profound.

During her father’s time at Gilchrist, he was offered a “Salute to Service” ceremony, a special tribute to honor his military service. While residing in Wichita Falls, Michele returned home to be by her father’s side during his time in hospice and participate in the ceremony. “When Gilchrist asked my brother and I if we would like a Salute to Service ceremony for our father, we were like, what’s that? After they explained what it was, we said, oh, yeah, absolutely,” Michele reflects.  Michele and her brother, both prior military members, were deeply touched by the Salute to Service. Michele remembers fondly that her father was coherent throughout the ceremony and was able to share stories of being in the Navy with the veterans. Her father passed away just five days after the ceremony, but the experience ignited a passion within Michele. She saw an opportunity to create similar ceremonies in her community, offering veterans the recognition and appreciation they deserve in their final days.

Using Extensive Connections

Using her extensive connections and experience in military protocol, Michele reached out to Wichita Falls’ hospice organizations. Hospice Wichita Falls embraced the idea, and with Michele’s guidance, they transformed their veteran’s program into a more meaningful and intimate Salute to Service ceremony inspired by the one at Gilchrist. Recruiting volunteers became her mission. Michele’s persistence paid off; she now has 18 volunteers, with more pending. Her diverse team includes retirees, active-duty personnel, and veterans from different branches, creating a rich tapestry of experiences to draw upon.

With the Gilchrist Veteran’s Task Force’s assistance, the Wichita Falls ceremonies follow a well-structured script, ensuring each is a memorable and dignified tribute to the veterans they honor. Michele’s goal is to expand the program to other hospices in Wichita Falls and beyond, making this service available to any family with a veteran in hospice care.

Michele advises those interested in starting a similar program to be patient and persistent. It takes time to build a team and gain momentum. She also stresses the importance of showcasing the impact of these ceremonies through visuals, like videos, to help potential volunteers truly understand the program’s significance.

An Important Program

The “Salute to Service” program in Wichita Falls, born from Michele’s love for her father and inspired by Gilchrist, is a touching testament to the enduring gratitude we owe to our veterans. “I am so grateful to Gilchrist…they were a godsend to us and will always have a special place in my heart for what they did for us; they made the whole process so much easier. That is something that we’ll never forget,” Michele concludes. The Salute to Service program in Maryland and now, in Wichita Falls, is a heartfelt way to honor veterans’ service and provide solace to their families during their final moments.

Along with Salute to Service Tributes, Gilchrist hosts an annual Welcome Home Vietnam Veterans Day Celebration to honor veterans and their families free of charge. This year’s event will be held on Sunday, April 7, 2024, at 11:30 AM, at Martin’s West in Baltimore County. To learn more about supporting or volunteering for Gilchrist’s “We Honor Veterans program, contact Kimberlee McDonnell at or 443.849.8337 or visit   

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