Wisdom from Veterans to Endure Challenging Times

If there’s ever been a time we’ve yearned for wisdom from our elders, it’s during this pandemic. “We think that all of this is new and different, when the fact is our elders have been through tough and difficult times before,” says Rick Nenneau, service line director of Behavioral Health at Penn Highlands Healthcare. “It’s their resilience from which we should draw strength.”

With that in mind, and in honor of all those who have made sacrifices by serving in the United States Armed Forces, we turned to a few of the revered military veterans who are residents of the two Penn Highlands Healthcare skilled nursing facilities: Penn Highlands Jefferson Manor in Brookville, and Penn Highlands Elk Pinecrest Manor in St. Marys. We asked these gentlemen to share their memories about the time they served, along with their insights about getting through tough times.

We were grateful they responded so enthusiastically. “I think it brought back very pleasant memories for them,” says Nancy Votano, director of nursing at Pinecrest Manor. “These people have an individual story to tell, like little encyclopedias with their own history. That’s part of what I love about working in geriatrics.” The realistic challenge about getting these interviews? “One resident told us, ‘I would love to be interviewed and have my picture taken, but I’d need a haircut first,’” explains Penn Highlands Elk Pinecrest Manor administrator Megan Bolden. (Humor, says Nenneau, is certainly one of the keys to endurance.) Our skilled nursing teams tell us they’re managing through this time by stepping up each day to play a central role in residents’ lives, says Krista Trostle, a unit coordinator at Pinecrest Manor: “We become their family even more than we normally are.”

Starting top from left, our resident veterans shared their reflections:

  • Army veteran Edgar Blose remembers the protests that happened in the time of the Vietnam War. “Adhere to the instructions of people bigger than we are,” he advises. “Medical professionals know how to keep us safe.”
  • Harold “Skeet” Clock, an Air Force vet, has faith in our capacity to get through this. Having served in World War II, Skeet tells us, “Roll with the punches! What’s happening now happened before with the flu!”
  • William Delp served as an Army Specialist SPECT 4 in 1959, when the Vietnam War was just starting (though he didn’t have to go to war). Bill’s pep talk focuses on the practical: “What’s going on now stinks,” he said, “but we need to keep moving forward.”
  • Edward Leasure served in the Army during the Vietnam War. Ed’s hope is practical—that we listen to our leaders’ guidance “for everyone to stay home, and for the safety of all.”
  • William Hillebrand enlisted in the Army at the age of 18 and completed three years of service after completing basic training at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Hillebrand was stationed in Germany with the 69th division, and his main job was communications. Bill said he remembers listening to bombs drop from inside a foxhole, but highlights how scary times can actually reap valuable experiences and positive memories. “My years in the military were the best years of my life,” he said.
  • James Miller served in the Army and completed basic training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. He was stationed in Munich, Germany at the end of WWII for the recovery of the war and served for two and a half years as a communications specialist. Jim shared that while he was serving in Germany, he was able to meet German relatives for the first time. His insight based on that experience is that unfamiliar circumstances can present us with unique opportunities to connect with others.
  • Fred Defranco, now 96 years young, joined the Army at 17 and was stationed all over Europe, including France, Italy and Germany. He may have been young, but he had a lot of responsibility as a military police officer in WWII for two and a half years. Fred stated that no matter how strong we try to be, there are simply moments when we have to just have to get through—noting that it was especially difficult for him to be away from home and family during holidays and birthdays. Here Fred is pictured with a photo from around 1940 that’s special to him, as it includes all the active military from his neighborhood in Johnsonburg.

At Penn Highlands, we thank all those who have served, and we strive to help all of our residents and patients live healthy, meaningful lives. To learn more about our long-term care services, visit www.phhealthcare.org/jeffersonmanor and www.phhealthcare.org/pinecrest.

Veterans Photo Collage