The late Clarence MacNichols, his wife Kris, and Hospice volunteer John Sherwood reminisce about MacNichols' military service.

By John Sherwood, Hospice of the Panhandle Veteran Volunteer

My volunteer service with Hospice of the Panhandle has been one of my most enriching life experiences. In addition to being able to recognize and honor many of our veterans, it has provided the opportunity to literally touch pieces of American history.

Clarence J. MacNichols was one such veteran. He had spent approximately 20 months in England training for what we now call D-Day. Just prior to D-Day he was looking out at the vast array of ships positioning for the invasion, when he was called to serve as a translator for two officers. One of them was Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander. Two days later he was part of the invasion force. For his service during the invasion he received the Croix de Guerre, the highest award from France. I was allowed to touch it.

Another unique opportunity was meeting Peter P. Ruplenas, a combat photographer who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Bedsides actual combat photography he had quite a collection of pictures of many of the USO entertainers, including Marilyn Monroe. He told me that he and his son liked to drive to DC to the World War II Memorial, where they would greet the “old guys” coming to visit.

One of my first Vietnam veterans asked if I had seen the movie about Vietnam called “We Were Soldiers Once and Young.” Turns out the movie told the story about his unit. He was able to attest to the accuracy of the movie. One of our WWII veterans also had the opportunity to be an “extra” at the end of the movie “To Hell and Back” that told to story of Audi Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in WWII.

I also met a WWII Army veteran who spent 44 months including battles in Sicily, Italy, France and Germany and time chasing the infamous “Desert Fox,” Nazi Gen. Erwin Rommel, in North Africa. When he and some buddies arrived in Italy, they “borrowed” a Jeep and drove to Rome. While walking in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral they were asked if they could be helped. Joe’s response “… We’d like to meet the Pope.” They had an audience with Pope Pius XII. The Pope gave each of them a miniature replica of a statue of St. Peter.

Some of the most touching times are when a veteran returns my salute after I give him or her the Certificate of Appreciation, which Hospice of the Panhandle provides to veterans who are under hospice care. Perhaps my most memorable was one who apologized for using his left hand instead of the customary right hand. He had had a stroke and could not use his right arm.

We were meeting with a Navy veteran who told us he served on a ship, which we had never heard about. When we Googled the type of ship, up comes a picture of the veteran’s ship.

On occasion, we can assist the patient track down a copy of their Discharge Paper. Another veteran said he had lost his Shellback Certificate. That is an award that sailors receive when they cross the equator. With a little help from eBay, we were able to produce a duplicate award and present it to the veteran shortly before he passed.

When a veteran passes in the Hospice Inpatient Facility, we offer a recognition service as a final salute that helps to provide closure for the family.

If you would like to be part of this recognition team contact Volunteer Services Manager Tricia Lawrence at (304) 264-0406, ext. 1224. It could be your most rewarding phone call.

John Sherwood is a Hospice of the Panhandle volunteer who served four years as an Army Medical Service Officer in Germany, Vietnam and Texas. Hospice is a not-for-profit agency that has cared for patients and families with life-limiting illnesses in Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire and Jefferson counties since 1980. For more information on how hospice helps residents of the four-county area live more fully, call (304) 264-0406, or visit on-line at www.hospiceotp.org