July 5, 2012

Intouch Adult Day Veterans share stories and experiences

By Pam Berenger
Community Liaison
Intouch Adult Day and Home Care Services

The sights of a cloudless night sky dotted with men on gliders floating off course and of bodies floating off one of Normandy’s beaches, killed not by an enemy bullet, but by the weight of their waterlogged and overloaded backpacks, are as clear to Bill B. today as they were when he witnessed them more than a half century ago.

Bill was a rifleman, a scout, who trained in England and was part of the D-Day invasion. He and his comrades were skilled in combat. Nothing, he says, could prepare them for that day in June 1944.

As Bill talked, the men around him at Intouch Adult Day Services of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois in Moline listened, occasionally nodding their heads in silent acknowledgement of his testimonial. While none of those at the table had shared the same experience, each had their own to tell. There was an understanding – a bond that only those who had experienced war could share.

One by one the veterans tell their stories. Martin P. was with the 98th Bombardment Group, serving as a tail gunner on a B17 that was shot down over Germany on its second mission. Martin was captured by the Germans and spent 21 months in Stalag Luft 3 in Sagan-Silesia Bavaria.

Serving their country did not come without cost, and the men bear the emotional and physical scars. Harold H. was with the 8th Chemical Division. His training included unmasking in gas filled chambers to learn to identify poisonous gasses, like mustard and white phosphorus. Harold says his lungs and eyes were damaged from those tests.

Jesse Z. came away from WWII knowing that he helped save the lives of several young people during his patrols along the borders controlled by Germany and Russia. Jesse reported hearing “kids crying out in a field” one night. After several trips into what was likely enemy territory, eight children were in safe hands.

It’s a story Jesse doesn’t mind telling. Yet he and the other men speak of their inability to talk about most of what they saw and experienced during the WWII, Korea and Viet Nam conflict. Being with other veterans is healing, they said. The Wednesday discussion group at Intouch has helped them open up and to share and shed some of the emotional baggage.

“They emphatically say no one knows what it’s like unless they have been there themselves,” says Marilyn Woelke a social worker at Intouch. “Family and friends have not been there. They are naturally drawn to each other.”

The group was started in late 2010 and is just one of the programs held at Intouch Adult Day Services of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI). LSSI works with seniors and their families to help them live as independently and safely in the community as possible.

“I noticed the group of men gathering together at least once a week, I’m sure rehashing the same stories time and time again,” Woelke says. “This group gives them the opportunity to have some direction as well as talk about their experiences.”

About two dozen veterans from WWII, Korea and Vietnam attend the weekly meetings held Wednesdays at 10:15 a.m., and the number is growing. Topics vary each week. July topics will include the Korean War on July 11; favorite
military officer on July 18 and Seth Bleuer a member of the National Guard from Milan will speak on July 25.

For more information on speaking or being part of the group contact Woelke at (309) 797-0200. To learn more about Intouch and LSSI visit www.lssi.org.

Pam Berenger is Community Liasison at Intouch Adult Day and Home Care Services, 4011 Avenue of the Cities, Suite 102, Moline, IL 61265. She can be reached at (309) 797-0200 ext. 304