Veterans Welcoming Home Veterans

Posted: 11/7/2016

Unique Hospice Program Helps Veterans at End-of-Life

Henry Buchholtz of Aurora served in the Navy as a cook aboard the U.S.S. New Orleans during World War II. Before he passed away this past July, he was able to see pictures of and revisit memories about his ship thanks to Veteran-to-Veteran Volunteer Roger Brown and the We Honor Veterans program offered by Brookings Health System Hospice.Henry Buchholtz of Aurora loved to cook. His baked beans became a staple at the annual Brookings County Veterans Memorial pork feed and Aurora Fire Department events. During community pancake feeds, he’d settle in the kitchen with his griddle, turning flapjacks to feed the masses.

“When he made pancakes for the Legion, he was the only man with all the Auxiliary women who was cooking,” said Henry’s oldest daughter, Sandy Nilges of Aurora.

“The women were measuring ingredients, and he’d say, ‘Just dump it in, and you can tell if you’ve got enough,’” added his younger daughter, Linda Smidt, also of Aurora.

In fact, Henry mixed pancakes at the Pike/Huska American Legion Post #230 the same way he did during his three years in the Navy. His parents signed for him to enlist in 1943 when he was only 17 years old. He served as a cook in the South Pacific during World War II aboard the U.S.S. New Orleans, what he would refer to as his ship.

After the war, he married his wife, Alice, and settled in Aurora, working as a butcher at Artz Locker in Brookings for 40 years. In addition to their daughters, the couple also had twin sons, Dennis and David. Henry served on both the Aurora School Board and the Aurora Town Board, making such an impact on the community that Aurora named a park after him. But the service Henry was proudest of was his time in the military, always remembering his ship. And when Henry entered hospice care with Brookings Health System last winter, he finally got to see pictures of the New Orleans again thanks to the We Honor Veterans program.

Veteran-to-Veteran Volunteer Roger Brown procured photos of the U.S.S. New Orleans, like the one above, for hospice patient Henry Buchholtz. The two veterans were paired together by the We Honor Veterans program offered by Brookings Health System Hospice and often shared and revisited Henry’s memories of World War II and time aboard the New Orleans.We Honor Veterans is a campaign from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) that teaches hospice providers respectful inquiry, compassionate listening and grateful acknowledgement to comfort patients with a history of military service and possible physical or psychological trauma. By participating in the program, Brookings Health System’s hospice professionals and volunteers learn how to honor, respect and welcome home veterans.

As a part of the We Honor Veterans program, Brookings Health System offers a Veteran-to-Veteran volunteer program which pairs recruited veteran volunteers with veteran hospice patients. Veteran volunteers have the unique ability to relate and connect with hospice patients who have military experience and create an environment where life review and healing may occur.

Henry was matched with Veteran-to-Veteran Volunteer Roger Brown of Aurora, who served in the Army for 27 years. As a hospice volunteer for the past year, Roger visits with local hospice patients to connect with them and help them process emotions and memories as they reach end-of-life. As a veteran himself, Roger understands the distinct culture among those who have served in the military.

When Roger visited Henry in his home, he listened to Henry’s stories about his ship.

“He told me about Typhoon Cobra,” said Roger. “He said, ‘In my entire life that’s probably the most scared I’ve ever been.’ They lost three destroyers in that storm. He also told me about the time the front of the New Orleans was blown off.”

Roger researched the U.S.S. New Orleans online and came back to Henry with a CD filled with images of his ship, pictures Henry had never seen before.

“Dad was all excited,” said Linda, “and then I think because Roger was in the service, they could talk about stuff like that. He really liked that.”

In addition, Roger researched information on Typhoon Cobra and the bombing of the New Orleans and brought it for Henry to read. He tried to visit Henry once a week. One week he also convinced fellow hospice volunteer Nancy Gries to come along with him and bring her keyboard. She played for Henry, including the song, “Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,” which purportedly was inspired by the U.S.S New Orleans chaplain during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

“I thought it was really nice that Roger would take his time and come and visit him. Dad looked forward to the visits, too,” said Sandy. “He knew Roger was going to come on that day.”

When Henry became weak and started falling frequently, he told his hospice nurse he wanted to move to a nursing home. Brookings Health System helped Henry and his family arrange for care at Estelline Nursing and Care Center. His hospice services from Brookings Health moved with him, providing Henry comfort during his last days. Roger made it a point to continue visiting Henry, traveling to Estelline to listen to his stories, increasing his number of visits as time became short. When Henry passed away this past July, Roger went to his funeral. There, Henry’s family thanked Roger for the camaraderie he provided their father.

“The families always tell me the clients really look forward to my visit,” said Roger. “I get more out of it than the client does. The stories are just fantastic. There’s a closeness; we get to be friends. I don’t look it as just a chore going out. I look forward to going out to see people.”

Veteran volunteers like Roger form a strong relational bond with veteran hospice patients like Henry, but more volunteers are needed to help serve the unique needs of veterans and non-veterans alike as they enter hospice care.

“So many of our veterans were just kids when they were asked to serve our military,” said Mavis Gehant, retiring hospice social worker at Brookings Health System. “We know now that the human brain isn’t mature until age 25. And these were 18-, 19-year-old farm kids from South Dakota who suddenly saw so many things drastically different from the place they grew up in. For many of them, they still haven’t fully processed those experiences and may still at this point in their life need to find resolution for their memories. That’s where our Veteran-to-Veteran volunteers can help play such a critical role.”

Volunteers receive initial training from hospice staff and also meet monthly with other volunteers for additional training. Volunteers are encouraged to find their niche, whether it’s playing music, running errands, or visiting and listening to life experiences. Part of the training includes the grieving process when a volunteer loses a patient they’ve become close to.

“I have to deal with it every time,” says Roger of his hospice clients. “You just have to be brave enough and know you’re going to have to deal with it, but it’s worth making a difference for them.”

Individuals with who are interested in becoming hospice volunteers may contact Brookings Health System Hospice at (605) 696-7700 or fill out an application located at www.brookingshealth.org/Volunteer. More information about Brookings Health System Hospice can be found online at www.brookingshealth.org/Hospice.

About Brookings Health System

Brookings Health System, located in Brookings, South Dakota, includes a 49-bed hospital, the 79-bed The Neighborhoods at Brookview nursing home, Brookhaven Estates senior living apartments, Yorkshire Eye Clinic, and medical clinics in Arlington, White and Volga, South Dakota. It is a non-profit, city-owned facility that offers the community a full range of inpatient, outpatient, surgical and extended care services. The emergency room is staffed 24 hours a day and provides around the clock patient needs ranging from minor injuries to life threatening crises. For more information about the services offered at Brookings Health System, please call (605) 696-9000 or visit us on the Web at brookingshealth.org.