Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

February 27, 2014

Mobile clinic underscores strength of veterans’ determination

— — If you keep going and stay focused, you will get at least part way to your goal. I was reminded of this fact last week when a Veterans Administration mobile clinic arrived in Bluefield. Veterans are the ones who need that clinic, and they are the people who made it happen.

For years, Air Force veteran Al Hancock of Bluefield and other veterans have been working hard to get a veterans clinic established in Mercer County. Many area veterans now have to drive to the VA hospital in Beckley to get their medical care. All the veterans I have spoken to are quick to say they get good care in Beckley, but the drive takes a big part of their days. I once interviewed a World War II veteran who had to travel by ambulance to Beckley if he needed treatment; he was bedridden and could not drive.

Al never gave up. He sent a mailbag’s worth of letters to the Bluefield Daily Telegraph to promote the clinic, and our representatives in Washington, D.C. got to know him well. He put 18 years of his life into the effort.

Many of the veterans I know have learned that getting what you need in life isn’t always quick and easy. Too many people expect their problems to be resolved with one phone call or one letter, and too many give up when they don’t get instant satisfaction.

I spoke with Al after the ribbon-cutting ceremony. Everyone was admiring the new mobile clinic parked outside the Herb Sims Youth Center on Stadium Drive, and I had to wait while people congratulated him. When I finally got to speak with him, he was happy about the day’s events. He also made it clear that the work wasn’t done. He still wants to see a brick and mortar veteran’s clinic in Mercer County. Veterans I spoke with during the following days echoed this wish. They were glad to see the new mobile clinic, but they still want to see a clinic with a permanent location.

For years, I’ve interviewed veterans who had more than a few harrowing experiences. I once spoke to a Korean War veteran who remembered the constant subzero cold and being so close to Chinese soldiers that he could hear them talking. One World War II veteran who fought during the Battle of Bulge remembered how a German tank blasted the house where he and his buddies had taken shelter. They “dove” into the basement to escape the attack.

A Navy veteran recalled one frightening take off from an aircraft carrier. He was a radio operator on a dive bomber. The pilot was about to take off when a Japanese bomber hit the ship with a 500-pound bomb. The blast literally threw the dive bomber off the deck.

Despite the blast, the radioman and his pilot carried out their mission and attacked one of few remaining ships in the Japanese Navy. The fact their aircraft carrier had taken a serious blow didn’t mean their mission was put on hold. They proceeded to target and did their job.

In another interview, an Army Ranger told about landing on the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, and almost being killed by a German grenade. He had to stay in a cave overnight and had no idea how the invasion was going. Later, he learned the Allies had their foothold in Europe. While being transported back to England for treatment, he saw some young German soldiers that had been taken prisoner; they were a bunch of terrified boys, really. When one man announced he was going to shoot them, a Ranger officer told him that wasn’t going to happen, and that he would press charges. The man held his fire; when a Ranger said he was going to do something, he was going to do it.

All of the veterans I have ever interviewed had big vocabularies, but the phrase “give up” isn’t something they say. They have either been in combat, done dangerous jobs or endured months and years away from home and family, so they’re not going to give up an idea just because somebody didn’t return a phone call or answer a letter. They know getting what you need isn’t always easy.

Local veterans are happy about the new mobile clinic and appreciate the effort it took to get it here, but they still have not given up on their dream of a permanent location. It is still an obtainable goal. If plenty of veterans use the new mobile clinic — it can serve up to 1,200 veterans — they would demonstrate the need for a more permanent facility.

The nation’s veterans are a determined bunch of people, and they deserve to see their dream of a permanent clinic come true. I won’t be surprised if I’m some day covering a ribbon cutting for a new veterans clinic serving the veterans who call southern West Virginia home. The effort might take years, but the men and women working to make it happen won’t be deterred. If it’s possible to make it happen, they will make it happen.

Greg Jordan is senior reporter at the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at gjordan@bdtonline.com.

 

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