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Veterans honored before it’s too late

November 7, 2011

Hospice of the Western Reserve recognizes heroes

Star Beacon

HARPERSFIELD TOWNSHIP —  James “Birdie” Puffenbarger remembers his days on Iwo Jima.

He remembers the military rations and the fog of gunsmoke in the air. Above all, he remembers the boys that were lost on that island and he knows he was lucky to see his 23rd birthday, let alone his 88th.

“I always felt lucky I got through that,” he said. “Iwo Jima was a mean place. Of course, you’ve got to think you’re going to die when you’re in a place like that.”

Puffenbarger’s clear blue eyes smiled more than his mouth as volunteer veterans Richard Mead and Fred Grimm of the Hospice of the Western Reserve read him a letter of recognition Thursday and placed a pin on his shirt, honoring his time in the U.S. Air Corps.

The short bedside ceremonies are part of the Peaceful and Proud Program of the Hospice of the Western Reserve, said hospice coordinator of volunteers Sue Druschel.

“The Peaceful and Proud initiative at the Hospice of Western Reserve gives us hope that we can better serve the men and women who risked all for the greater good of our country,” she said.

Grimm said the new program needs volunteers to help honor veterans across the region.

“You really get the feeling when you do a presentation like this that while there were parades when they came home, that was a long time ago,” Grimm said. “It is time to recognize our veterans again, before it’s too late.”

Grimm leaned over Jacob Heinzman’s recliner chair and draped a red, white and blue blanket over the 78-year-old veteran’s lap.

The daughter of Geneva resident Tammy Conard, Heinzman is a former Texan brought to Ohio at the end of his life.

“The hospice care he receives here is wonderful,” Conard said. “I wanted to bring Daddy home to be with me, but I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”

Conard said her father doesn’t remember much of his time in the Army, but he nods his head knowingly when she mentions his work as a drill instructor. Heinzman served in the Army from 1957 to 1963 and then served in the National Guard.

“I told them what to do,” Heinzman said as he balanced his two small great-grandsons on his lap.

“Daddy talks a lot about being in the Army and I know he is proud to have served,” Conard said. “I wanted him to be honored now, to know that we appreciate what he has done.”

Puffenbarger’s grandsons gathered around Mead and Grimm on Thursday, passing around a 1944 sepia photo of their grandfather.

“He gets to remembering, to reminiscing, and he’ll talk for 45 minutes about his childhood in West Virginia and his time in the service. We all sit around listening and we are amazed at his life,” grandson Dale Puffenbarger said.

Grimm and Mead snapped to attention, giving Puffenbarger a firm salute.

With a broad smile, Puffenbarger gave a salute back.

The 88-year-old Puffenbarger suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure. He was brought home to be with his family in his last days, but has since improved.

“Around here, we don’t take days for granted anymore,” Dale Puffenbarger said. “I know this (ceremony) is for him, but it does something for all of us. It is amazing that hospice does this for our veterans, but they have to know that they do it for us, too.”

For more information on the Hospice of the Western Reserve or to volunteer, call (997-6619).


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