Hospice honors veterans with pinning ceremony at Norwichtown Rehab

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Norwichtown - posted Tue., Sep. 17, 2013
Jean Wydra returns the salute of Dean Lake, a former chief petty officer in the Navy, at Norwichtown Rehabilitation and Care Center during a Patriot Day ceremony. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.
Jean Wydra returns the salute of Dean Lake, a former chief petty officer in the Navy, at Norwichtown Rehabilitation and Care Center during a Patriot Day ceremony. Photos by Janice Steinhagen.

Ten veterans from Norwichtown Rehabilitation and Care Center were honored on Sept. 11, Patriot Day, in a veterans’ pinning ceremony recognizing their service to the country. Center for Hospice Care volunteer and PFC Jean Wydra of Norwich, wearing the Air Force uniform of an Airman First Class, carefully affixed a flag pin to each veteran’s shirt and presented each with a certificate and a letter of thanks.

“For your service to our country, I salute you,” she said to each veteran, and those who were able returned her salute.

The honorees included Army Corp. John Banker; Marine Corps Corp. Robert Bassett; Army Maintenance Tech 5 Fred Casavant; Army Corp. Gerard Guillet; Navy Chief Petty Officer Dean Lake; Army Private Samuel Piacenza; Navy Reserve Petty Officer 3rd Class Robert Pucel; Coast Guard Radarman 2nd Class Charles Wozniak; Edweard Keegan of the Navy; and Navy Boatswain’s Mate Edward Riordan.

World War II Army veteran Fred Casavant, a native of Baltic, was accompanied to the ceremony by his children, Fred Casavant of Preston and Judy Bachand of Lisbon. The elder Casavant served two years as a mechanic, with postings in Burma, India and China, from 1943 to 1945.

Part of his enlistment involved driving a wrecking truck on the infamous Burma Road. The road wound over steep mountains with treacherous switchbacks – and no guardrails. “Man, that was something. I’ll never forget that,” he said. While as a maintenance technician he didn’t see much heavy fighting himself, he lost some of his buddies. “These young guys came over, 18 years old,” he said.” “They’d go out, and sometimes they didn’t come back.”

Wydra said that the group ceremony was unusual in that the men being honored were not Hospice patients. “We usually go and do one person at a time,” she said. “We thought [the group ceremony] would be nice because it’s Patriot Day today.”

Wydra, who also performs this ceremony when she’s at her summer home in Florida, said that Hospice makes it a point to honor all its patients who are veterans with the pinning ceremony. “The interesting thing I find... is that more than three-quarters of the times that I do this, the adult relatives of these folks say the same thing: ‘I wish we had done this earlier.’ Many times [the Hospice patients] have no idea what’s going on.” She encouraged families to contact Center for Hospice Care Southeast Connecticut at http://www.hospicesect.org/ for more information.

Wydra is herself a veteran of the Korean Conflict era. She served for a year stateside until she made the decision to get married. “In those days [a woman] couldn’t be married, and definitely couldn’t have a child” while in the military, she said. “That was 62 years ago. That’s a long time.”

Beth Ann Heath, director of therapeutic recreation services at NRCC, said that the center had hosted a pinning ceremony for one of its residents last Memorial Day, “so this time we extended it to all our veterans.” Many non-veteran residents also attended the ceremony and added their applause for each of the veterans.

“I really feel like the residents’ hearts were touched,” she said. “It’s so important for them to get that recognition for all their years of service.”

Contact Janice Steinhagen with story ideas at jsteinhagen@remindernet.com. 

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