'It is so crucial for us to be there'

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For seven years, The American Legion Family in Pennsylvania’s District 12 has provided holiday parties, entertainment, gifts and camaraderie to the patients and residents – including those in hospice or palliative care – at the Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center. The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t put a halt to that, though social distancing has altered the way the Legion Family members show they care.

May included a Memorial Day event, while June followed with the Legion Family members honoring Father’s Day. And on July 4, District 12 was in the VA facility’s parking lot, providing music while Legion Family held up U.S. flags and waved to the patients and residents watching from their windows.

“Our veterans had a blast. The band absolutely rocked that parking lot, and our veterans were dancing, singing and waving their flags from their windows,” District 12 Canteen Fund Representative Nicole Guest said. “It was extremely important for our veterans to have us there for the Fourth of July because they could not come out of their rooms.

“Normally there would have been a party. We probably would have been going on a bus trip or had a cookout. They have been in almost four months of lockdown. It is so crucial for us to be there … once a month.”

Members of the district’s American Legion Riders formed a parade around the perimeter of the building that Guest said “was so amazing and touching. All of the Riders were saluting our veterans as they were driving by their windows, and our veterans were saluting them back. There wasn’t a dry eye in that parking lot. It was amazing.”

Guest said the reason why District 12’s American Legion Family continues to provide monthly parking lot visits to the Wilkes-Barre VAMC is the reaction on the patients’ and residents’ faces.

“Since we’ve been doing them, it’s not just the veterans, but the staff said the spirits of the whole building from what we’re doing is just amazing,” Guest said. “I received a text from the (facility’s) rec therapist. She said ‘one of our veterans, for the past four months he’s been getting extremely depressed.’ The word she used is he’s been ‘flat’ for months now. When he heard the band and heard us doing ‘God Bless America’, she said he turned his head to the window, and he started smiling and moving his feet.

“We will be there every month as long as we can do this for them. It gives them something to look forward to.”