Veterans honored at Matulitis Nursing Home

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Thu., Nov. 15, 2012
Norman Babbitt has been celebrating with veterans at Matulitis for 18 years. Photos by D. Coffey.
Norman Babbitt has been celebrating with veterans at Matulitis for 18 years. Photos by D. Coffey.

Ten veterans at the Matulitis Nursing Home in Putnam were honored with an early Veteran's Day program on Nov. 10. Activities Director Nicole Lemire teamed up with Thompson resident and Korean War veteran Norman Babbitt to honor their service to the country. Flags decorated the activities room.

Aldona Prapuolenis played several patriotic songs on the piano. Lemire asked each veteran about their branch of service, when and where they served, and what jobs they performed while enlisted. The men had served with the Army, Air Force, Navy and Marines. They had fought in World War II and the Korean War. Most of them had seen combat.

Roland Moulin served in the infantry. Lucien Richards served in the Navy. Warren Salvas served four years in Japan with the Marines. Clive Gudmundson served in the army between WW II and the Korean War. Lois Sarant  went for one year of training and ended up serving five years in the Army. Andrew Ducharme was in Korea with the Army. Joseph Bertorelli, John Chambers, and Roger Langlois also served.

“The sounds, sights, and smells of combat will never be forgotten,” Babbitt said. “We pray for an end to war and to get our troops out of Afghanistan.” Babbitt has helped coordinate the Veteran's Day program at Matulitis for 18 years. “I've been volunteering since I was 3 years old,” he said.

Leonard Belair sat with his daughter, Lori Dakin. Belair was an Air Force radioman who flew 35 combat missions. Most of them were over Germany between 1941 and 1945. “At first you don't want to go,” he said. “Then it becomes almost second nature. It's your duty, not because you chose it. I don't know how many people I killed.”

The bombing missions affected him deeply. “You're not physically doing it yourself, but you're the process by which it happens,” he said.  “It's something you have to live with. Not just when you do it, but all your life.”

Belair's son, Randy, said his father couldn't talk about his war experiences easily. “He knew precision bombing wasn't precision bombing,” Randy said. “They killed civilians. He tried to atone for it all his life.” He said his father got involved in his church, he took foster children in, he put a German woman to work in his company. “He was generous,” Randy said. “He's a living example of the greatest generation.”

After sharing some military history, after singing and having cake and coffee, Prapuolenis set her fingers on the piano keys. “Let's just sing “Yankee Doodle Dandy” for fun. You know it by heart,” she said. The 89-year-old was herself a veteran of war. She was 25-years-old when World War II put an end to her music studies. She and her family left Lithuania for Austria before finding their way to the United States. She plays for the residents often now. “People forget faces, names, knowledge,” she said. “They forget harmonies and melodies last. It's meaningful.”

Belair took the microphone and the lyrics to the song. “I'll play and you sing,” Prapuolenis said. “Dad will always sing if you play,” Dakin said. 

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