Heartland Hospice Hosts Virtual Event to Celebrate Veterans
“Well, I learned how to duck!” A seemingly unlikely response when asked what one has learned from an influential period of their life. Yet, within the context of inviting U.S. Veterans from the Vietnam War to reflect authentically upon their service, this quick-witted reply captures both the grit of surviving the war and its elongated aftermath in the decades that have followed it.
Gordon Creamer, Heartland Hospice volunteer coordinator and chairperson for Heartland’s We Honor Veterans Committees in Maryland, details the importance of not only recognizing veterans, but also taking time to listen to their stories and truly understanding what their service means to each of them.
“Virtual events are a piece of the storytelling ingredient Heartland Hospice utilizes to affirm and heal service women and men who have struggled with countless and varied traumas endured during their tenure in the military and thereafter. Recently, the We Honor Veterans Committees of the Heartland Hospice agencies in Maryland facilitated virtual events to affirm and celebrate veterans of the Vietnam War era and their loved ones. With the inclusion of both an educational resource panel and honor ceremony, Heartland staff and volunteers provided members of the veteran community with a meaningful and uplifting occasion to gather in solidarity to tell their respective stories and to be recognized for their forgotten sacrifices, losses and survival.
As Level Five partners, the highest level of partnership within the We Honor Veterans program, the Heartland agencies are required to host an event that “welcomes home” service members who originally were cruelly rejected, maligned and discriminated against because they fought in the Vietnam War. Heartland uniquely embraced these occasions and its participants by forgoing cancellation due to the COVID-19 pandemic and instead facilitating not one, but two, special festivities virtually. Additionally, the components of the panel and ceremony passionately recognized and validated the mixed experiences of the American citizens who served in this war.
Individuals from local communities, Charlotte Hall Veterans Home and several care facilities actively participated in both virtual events. Each attendee received an appreciation package a few days in advance, personally and safely delivered by a Heartland Veteran Volunteer or staff member. These packages included a customized Vietnam Veterans hat, a “Star” from Stars for Our Troops, a Heartland Salute medal, a personalized framed certificate of honor, a “Courage Box”, resource materials and a program folder.
With the centerpiece of each program being the storytelling portion, several personal and stirring tales were revealed by veterans as they reflected on tragedies endured and lessons learned. The incorporation of live music and poetry, an opening blessing, a closing moment of silence and a period of applause and cheering for each veteran further fulfilled the overarching mission of not erasing the first time these women and men returned home from the war, but rather reimagined it with long overdue appreciation and esteemed respect.
In the face of the ongoing pandemic, this entire experience has created some substantial takeaways as our We Honor Veterans Committees continue their steadfast pledge of support to those who have served our country. In particular, the intention to truly pause and listen with reverence when a veteran shares his or her story has become paramount, second only to gazing first upon that veteran with admiration and asking a simple question or two about what their service means to them.”