Sailors take hospitalized veterans on a trip down memory lane with melodic visit

Sailors Visit Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center

On Aug. 27, the normal bustling activity at the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center came to a temporary standstill as the sound of military cadence approached the main entrance.

An elite group of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer selectees and their Chief Petty Officer mentors marched crisply in formation while singing the Navy’s march song ‘Anchors Aweigh’.

The Sailors, who are assigned to Strategic Communications Wing One at Tinker Air Force Base, visited the medical center to pay tribute to Veterans who went before them. They visited 4 East and West and Inpatient Rehabilitation, and sang several songs on both floors and inside the hospital atrium.

For several Veterans, the naval visit took them back to their own days of service.

“I was moved by it,” said Navy Veteran Gary Gardner, who served from 1957-1961 and is currently undergoing treatment in Inpatient Rehab. “It brought me to tears, because it brought back so many memories.”

While talking with the Veterans, several mentioned the immense pride they had for the Sailors who took the time to visit them.

“I remember when I was their age back in the 60s,” said Navy Veteran Don Fowler, who served from 1969 to 1971 and is also undergoing treatment in Inpatient Rehab. “They represented the Navy proudly today.”

The Sailors are spending several days in the local area at Camp Gruber, and also conducting rehabilitation work on USS Batfish, which is located at Muskogee War Memoral Park. The famous submarine sank three Imperial Japanese Navy submarines in February 1945, and was damaged by historic flooding in May 2019.

The Navy is also conducting a Chief Petty Officer Legacy Academy at the Muskogee War Memorial Park, which gives the Chief selectees an opportunity to spend time aboard a historial naval vessel and help prepare them to become Chief Petty Officers.

“We’re doing professional development training, history and heritage training, which is why we use the Batfish,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Brock Corcoran, one of several mentors to Chief selectees in Strategic Communications Wing One.

During their visit to the medical center, it’s uncertain who got more out of the day – the Veterans recovering during a hospital stay or the group of Sailors who listened to stories from the past and received leadership advice from the Veterans.

“They have paved the way for us to be here today, to serve our country and to be able to maintain the strongest Navy in the world,” said Corcoran. “It was just a pleasure to come and visit the Veterans here at the hospital.”

Posted by Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System on Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Vance Brinsfield sat in his wheelchair a little straighter and smiled.

He listened as 42 sailors from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City sang the Navy fight song, “Anchors Aweigh,” and the Marines’ Hymn on Tuesday in the Inpatient Rehabilitation Unit on the fifth floor of the Jack C. Montgomery VA Medical Center.

“It was good singing,” said the 93-year-old Army veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge. “I liked that a lot. I thought it sounded good.”

Brinsfield later shook hands with the singers and told them stories of his time in the service. They were rapt listeners, and one of them was Carrie Nichols.

“Hearing the stories was really inspirational to us,'” said Nichols, one of the 42 Chief Petty Officer selectees who sang. “I know the veterans were getting a lot out of us being here. To shake their hands was big for me and to hear them talking about their time in the service. When we sang the Marine Hymn, I saw one of them crying.”

Jerry Bussett, an Army veteran who was in special forces, wasn’t crying, but he was certainly proud and happy to hear the singing.

“These are young people who care about other people, not just themselves,” he said. “I was just told about this so I came out to watch. I enjoyed it because it brought back memories. I used to sing when I was in Vietnam. That was 50 years ago. It seems like it was yesterday.”

The sailors marched from their bus through the main entrance before going up to the fifth floor. They also sang on the fourth floor and then at the atrium inside the VA Center.

Jonathan Plasencia, the associate director of the Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System, said he was “proud” to have the sailors singing.

“The veterans also love to have visitors like this, because it really brings up their spirits,” the four-year Navy veteran said. “We’re happy to show the (sailors) our rehabilitation unit. I was so happy to hear they were coming, and it’s important that we connect with them. We coordinate visits like this throughout the year. It was very touching.”

Nobody felt more touched than Camira Graham after she sang to and talked with the veterans.

“It brings me a lot of joy to do this and to hear those stories is history,” she said. “It’s something we need to hear, and it keeps us motivated.”

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