Hospice volunteers help northwest Wisconsin veterans find a peaceful ending

November 24, 2015

Ted Stearns of Menomonie (left), and Don Willson-Broyles of Eau Claire, are two military veterans and hospice volunteers who assist in special pinning ceremonies for veterans receiving hospice care. The ceremonies are part of the We Honor Veterans program through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Ted Stearns of Menomonie (left), and Don Willson-Broyles of Eau Claire, are two military veterans and hospice volunteers who assist in special pinning ceremonies for veterans receiving hospice care. The ceremonies are part of the We Honor Veterans program through the Department of Veterans Affairs.

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. —  Boyd McEwen’s father, Royal, is a self-driven, selfless, friendly individual who loves his country and has always liked to help people — so it’s no surprise that the 91-year-old Barron man is a former military man.

“Bud,” as he’s affectionately known to family and friends, served as a seaman first class in the U.S. Navy Armed Guard during World War II. He helped transport U.S. troops and invasion equipment and artillery, and was charged with protecting civilian vessels against the enemy.

“He talks quite a bit about it,” says Bud’s son, Boyd, a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force. “He was on four different ships, and they transported troops and invasion equipment to several different islands. They went to Okinawa. He was present during the Iwo Jima invasion.”

Sadly, Bud’s health has taken a turn for the worse in the last year or two. Cancer that started in his colon spread to his small intestine, stomach, gall bladder and liver, and he’s now receiving hospice services through Mayo Clinic Health System.

“We’re doing OK,” says Boyd. “It’s hard. Things are changing day by day now, but the Mayo Clinic Health System hospice team helps us understand what’s going on.” He notes that having Mayo Clinic Health System’s hospice program — a comprehensive line of services providing comfort and care for the terminally ill and their families — has helped lighten the load.

“I think it’s great. Without the program, we wouldn’t be able to have him here living with us and be able to keep him here,” says Boyd, noting that Bud lives with him and his wife, Ann, and that his father always dreaded the thought of going to a nursing home.

What’s also been helpful is a new volunteer veterans program offered through the Mayo Clinic Health System. In March, the hospice program partnered with We Honor Veterans, a program of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which helps guide veterans and their families through their life stories and move toward a more peaceful ending. Veteran volunteers visit with a veteran hospice patient, offering companionship, as well as a chance to tell their story to someone who’s been there.

“We arrive at the person’s home and speak with the veteran for a while about their military service, about their family’s response to their military service and how they might have been affected, as well as anything else they want to tell us,” says Don Willson-Broyles of Eau Claire — a hospice volunteer and U.S. Army veteran. “After 20 to 30 minutes, we express our gratitude for their service, give them the certificate, pin them with the flag pin and salute them, if it seems appropriate.”

Willson-Broyles, who took part in Bud’s pinning ceremony in September, says he believes the ceremony is important because not all veterans have received proper acknowledgement of their service. “He did express gratitude and thanks for the recognition,” Willson-Broyles says. “He was very open to us and the hospice team. My sense was that he really did appreciate that he was being acknowledged.”

Boyd confirms that Bud was, indeed, moved by the ceremony. “I think it’s great,” Boyd says. “It’s a great program, especially for guys like my dad that were in the Armed Guard. Nobody really knows about the Armed Guard and what they did, so it was nice. He was really happy to get some recognition for that.” Bud was one of six veterans honored by hospice volunteers since March.

Ted Stearns of Menomonie, a U.S. Army veteran, also volunteers with the program and has been a part of two pinning ceremonies — something he says he’s happy to be able to help with. “I think it’s an opportunity for some of these veterans that have probably never been thanked for their service to their country to get a special thank you, and the pinning ceremony does that,” Stearns says. “This is another way of giving those veterans that didn’t get any recognition a chance to say ‘We appreciate your service and what you did for our country, so we can all live in freedom and keep this great nation going.’”

Boyd says he’s grateful his father was able to experience the ceremony and all it symbolizes. “He’s just very proud of the certificate,” Boyd says. “I’m glad another veteran came out and talked to him about service. It’s so meaningful.”

To further honor or memorialize a loved one, Mayo Clinic Health System provides love light trees, including lighting ceremonies held at various Mayo Clinic Health System sites, with proceeds benefitting hospice care. Blue lights honor or memorialize a member of the military. White lights serve as memorial lights. Colored lights honor livings friends or relatives.

The love light trees are located on properties where communities are able to enjoy them during the holiday season. Please join us for one of this year’s tree lighting ceremonies:

  • Menomonie — 4:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 30, 2321 Stout Road
  • Barron — 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1, 1222 E. Woodland Ave.
  • Eau Claire — 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1221 Whipple St.
  • Osseo — 5 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 3, 13025 Eight St.
  • Bloomer — 5 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 6, 1501 Thompson St.

NOTE: Since these interviews were conducted, Royal McEwen passed from his illness. His family requested that this story still be told to illustrate how hospice care can make a difference in a person’s final months. Mayo Clinic Health System sends its condolences and heartfelt sympathies to the family of Mr. McEwen.

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Mayo Clinic Health System consists of clinics, hospitals and other facilities that serve the health care needs of people in more than 60 communities in Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The community-based providers, paired with the resources and expertise of Mayo Clinic, enable patients in the region to receive the highest-quality health care close to home.

Press Contact

Kristin Everett
e-mail: everett.kristin@mayo.edu
phone: 715-838-5805