• Soldiers visit hospitalized veterans

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    “I’d go back right now if they asked,” said veteran Rex Parks who served in the Navy from 1970-72 on the USS Oklahoma City as an engineering officer. “It was fun. I enjoyed it. (It was) a learning experience and I used a lot of my experience when I got out with responsibility because it taught me it.”
    While serving on the USS Oklahoma City, Parks traveled through Japan, Vietnam, China and the Philippines.
    Parks is currently a patient at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Leavenworth. He is being treated for a leg injury after he was hit by a car four months ago, and he was one of the veterans who were visited by 30 Fort Leavenworth soldiers during the 40th annual National Salute to Veteran Patients Feb. 15 in the VA Community Living Center and Domicillary.
    “For over 40 years, the national salute has been an important annual event in American culture, bringing together Hollywood celebrities, famous sports figures, staff troops, social and venerable relations and people of all ages from all walks of life to recognize our military veterans,” said VA Volunteer Services Specialist Charles Ramey.
    Each year, the National Salute to Veteran Patients program is observed the week of Valentine’s Day to pay tribute to veterans, express appreciation, increase community awareness of the mission of the VA medical center and encourage citizens to visit hospitalized veterans and consider volunteering, said Joseph Burks, VA public affairs officer for Leavenworth and Topeka.
    “The national salute is observed annually during the week of Valentine’s Day because it is a day of caring and sharing which underscore the salute’s expression of honor and appreciation to inpatient and outpatient veterans,” Burks said. “No one should be alone on Valentine’s Day and with the help of our grateful community, no veteran has to be.”
    Garrison Commander Col. Marne Sutten had a request of the veterans.
    “Veterans, please share your stories. Not only have you laid that foundation for us and not only do you have a story to tell, but you have lessons that you can teach us. All of us need to continue to grow and become more professional, better leaders, and you guys can share those stories and teach us every single day,” Sutten said.
    VA patient Ken Weimer, who served in the Army from 1967-1971, said he did have a lesson to pass on to the soldiers.
    “A lot of this is ‘this is what the book says’ but I say if you ever go to combat the book gets thrown out the window because you can’t go by the book,” he said. “The enemy don’t go by the book. Trust me. You better be a quick thinker.”
    Page 2 of 3 - During his military career, Weimer served in Germany, Italy and Vietnam as a tanker.
    “I made the best of it,” he said. “In Germany, I played football (and) I wrestled. So, I had no problems.”
    Weimer has been a patient at the VA Medical Center since Dec. 26, 2017, after a bacterial infection in his right knee caused him to lose his leg. After 30 days of doctors trying to figure out what type of bacteria the infection was, 60 days at St. Luke’s Hospital, 30 days at the University of Kansas Hospital and two rehab stints, Weimer came to the VA.
    “I hope to be out of here by June 1. The big thing is getting it healed and then getting my prosthetic and walking out with it. That’s my goal anyhow,” Weimer said. “Just like (overseas) I had to make the most of it (and) I had to change my attitude. I made the best of it.”
    Sutten also had a request of the visiting soldiers.
    “Learn from them. It is a special day to be asked to come here today and represent. You are the best of your chains of command,” Sutten said. “They selected you to come here to represent your individual units, so learn from these gentlemen and men who have come before us and made life easier for each and every one of us.”
    Sgt. James Beedie, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, U.S. Disciplinary Barracks, said it was an honor to be chosen to participate.
    “I’m honored to be here and to be able to talk with these guys,” he said. “These guys are the living history and it’s just really a big honor to be here and talk with them and see what they’ve done in their life and take from that.”
    Parks said he was enjoying having the soldiers visit.
    “I love to tell stories,” he said. “I enjoy telling stories and they seem to want to listen and most of my stories this time were true.”
    VA Recreation Therapist Melissa Bethune said she thought the event was beneficial for both the veterans and the active-duty soldiers.
    “I think it just overall, the camaraderie that they get to have together as once active-duty veterans. So, this is kind of nice to mingle with the new era of soldiers and get to relate and reminisce memories for them, and for the soldiers to come and thank those that led the way for them and build that relationship up,” Bethune said.
    “I’ve always been a patriotic person and there’s nothing better than to work for those that gave me the opportunity to work in this country. It’s an honor to work for these guys and to love on them every day and to serve them. I wouldn’t want to work for anybody else.”
    Page 3 of 3 - Parks said he was thankful for the care he’s received at the VA.
    “They take good care of me and I enjoy their care,” Parks said. “They do their job well.”
    Gina Graham, assistant director of the VA for Leavenworth and Topeka, said the VA is honored to be able to do this for the veterans.
    “We are proud to give this gift to our American heroes,” she said. “The men and women who we serve and care for here; the men and women who have given more than most to protect and preserve our freedom as a nation. Freedom is not free. It is earned with the valor, the commitment and undying patriotism which is worthy of our time, our energy and our deep appreciation.”
    Sutten agreed.
    “We are a special family whether or not it’s the Army, the Navy, the Air Force (or) the Marines; we should be proud of that special connection that we have because we are truly special as half a percent of the population,” she said. “You are true role models for those of us that are in the room and we are very, very proud to be here today, and we appreciate everything that you have done not only to serve your country but to lay a foundation for those of us in uniform still. Someday we will join your ranks and we will be proud to serve with you.”
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