Honoring the Dead: Disabled Veterans Roll into Action on Memorial Day

By Bruce Kalish, Senior Chaplain, Grand Rapids Home for Veterans

Veterans are often identified by their disabilities, not their capabilities.  But, in Long-Term Care we encourage independence and advancement toward one’s fullest potential.  

On May 30th, 2019, this objective was achieved in a profound way.  The traditional Memorial Day is always a solemn commemoration at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans (GRHV).  A Patriotic program includes stirring music, food, a keynote speaker, reading the names of veterans who died at the home since the last Memorial Day, a tribute by the Blue and Gold Star Mothers, a three-volley rifle salute with Taps by the Kent County Veterans’ Honor Guard and a military color guard to post and retire the National, State and service flags.   In past years, these programs were provided for our veterans.  This year, our resident Veterans (we call them Members) were asked to serve in the program.

Prior to the program, we ordered silk wreaths for each branch of service.  Members in our Home’s woodshop created a pattern for each service logo and cut medallions to hang in the center of each wreath.  About thirty other members participated in the prelude of patriotic songs as part of our Home’s traveling chorale, the “Vet-Tones.”  Then, the ceremony was opened by the GRHV Member Color Guard posting the branch of service, State and National flags.  At the close of the ceremony, the same members retired the colors.

In the future we hope to develop adaptive harnesses to assist those in wheelchairs who carried the flags.  The precision, pace and polish of the active military from previous years may have been missing; but the empowerment, passion and pride evidenced in these standard-bearers stirred everyone’s emotions.

Chaplains “nurture the living, care for the wounded, and honor the dead.”  Memorial Day 2019 at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans fulfilled that ethos.

When Chaplain Kalish initially reported on this event, he casually mentioned the participation of wheelchair bound honor guard members.  Never having seen flags posted this way, I asked him to provide photos of the event.  I was so impacted by what I saw, I asked him to provide a narrative of the ceremony to share with our readers.

Join me in thanking God for Chaplain Bruce’s creative foresight to involve resident Veterans – all capable Members, even those confined to wheelchairs; in the ceremony.  Such integration of Veterans helps assuage the painful scars carried by “those who shall have borne the battle.”*

For more stories about CBAmerica chaplains go to http://cbamerica.org/category/chaplaincy/.  For information on endorsement for a wide variety of chaplain specialties, email Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbamerica.org.

*Notes: This phrase is found in the last paragraph of Lincoln’s second inaugural address:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”