Sun City veteran gets lost medals returned
Calvin Pritchett has done a lot of living in the 40 years since he served in the U.S. Navy, including a stint in Vietnam aboard the USS Scholfield. Over the course of many moves across the country, his military medals were lost.
On Thursday, the medals were replaced – thanks to Hospice of the Valley and Operation American Patriot, both not-for-profit organizations that offer special service to veterans.
“It feels good to get them back,” Pritchett said. “I wasn’t expecting this.”
Pritchett has had an eventful year, starting in January when he met Helen Wheeler and married her five months later. A week after that, they got the news that Pritchett had cancer. He was referred to the Veterans Administration and Hospice of the Valley.
“They said it was inoperable and stage 4,” he said. “I got down to 139 pounds. I was really bad off, like a ragamuffin, just skin and bones.”
Hospice of the Valley care team members Anthony Fierro, social worker, and Kathy Petty, RN case manager, made arrangements for Pritchett to participate in the agency’s “Salutes” program a few months ago.
Volunteer Julian Wyatt, also a veteran, presented Pritchett with a branch of service flag and pin. During their conversation, Pritchett mentioned he had lost his medals.
The hospice care team next enlisted the agency’s military liaison Tom Fenner. Fenner contacted Jerry Iannacci, chief executive officer of Operation American Patriot, and liaison to U.S. Sen. John McCain’s office, which obtained the replacement medals.
On Thursday, the whole group gathered at Pritchett’s Sun City home to witness the touching presentation ceremony.
“Thank you for your service,” said Fenner, offering a Navy flag. Iannacci gave Pritchett his medals and spoke of the sacrifice military men and women make to preserve our freedom. “It’s the American fighting force that has helped keep world peace,” he said.
The medals weren’t the only good news for Pritchett.
Under the auspices of the VA, Pritchett has undergone chemotherapy along with hospice care and his condition improved so much that soon he will become a hospice “graduate.”
“I’m doing great now,” he said. “I’m getting my strength back, gaining weight, and I don’t even need the wheelchair anymore. My weight’s up to the mid-160s.”
Through the agency’s “Salutes” program, founded two years ago, more than 60 volunteers who are military veterans have honored 720 hospice patients Valleywide. Agency staff and volunteers also are educated about veterans’ special needs and potential issues, such as post-traumatic stress syndrome.
Hospice of the Valley is a member of the national “We Honor Veterans” program, developed by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. One in four people who die every year in the United States is a veteran.