SOQUEL—Bill Roberson, who was 19 years old when he was called to serve in World War II, considers Veterans Day a time to remember old friends.
“I’m proud of the fact that we fought for religious liberty,” he said during an intimate gathering in his living room where he was honored for his service to the country.
The gathering was one of several quiet pinning ceremonies conducted this week by Hospice of Santa Cruz County representatives making special visits to patients who are former military personnel.
The hospice agency provides end-of-life care to people who have been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and are expected to live less than six months. The organization partners with We Honor Veterans, a national program that helps agencies provide specialized care.
One in four deaths in the U.S. are veterans. About 150 of 1,000 patients served annually by the Scotts Valley organization are veterans.
They are often people who are used to being “battle ready” but are no longer able to maintain that level of alertness at the end of their lives, said Cathy Conway, Hospice spokeswoman.
“It can be a place of pain or anguish for them,” Conway said.
At the end of life, people are losing lots of things, said Michael Milward, chief executive officer of Hospice of Santa Cruz County. “Military folks are trained to be capable. They are trained to be leaders. That loss of capability is part of their grieving.”
The informal ceremonies include a small U.S. flag and a card thanking veterans for their service, courage and commitment.
“Your service will never be forgotten,” it says.
Patients also receive a certificate of appreciation for their patriotic service.
Roberson, 91, served stateside as an X-ray technician in the Army Air Corps, a branch of the military that predates the Air Force. A medical condition prevented him from being deployed abroad.
“There are a lot more worthy veterans than me,” Roberson said. “I had friends that went over and did lose their lives and others that came home and we remain friends.”
Everybody comes to a life review process, Milward says.
“For veterans, their service is a big part of who they’ve been, some for the better, some for worse. For some, they have to come to terms with things, for others, it is the best time of their lives,” Milward said.
“All of us at Hospice of Santa Cruz County want to thank you for your service,” said Milward, who sat on Roberson’s sofa and presented him with a pin while he sat in his favorite living room recliner. “We know you played an important part in the incredible effort that our country made during WWII.”
Roberson, who has five stents in his heart, is dying of congestive heart failure. During the ceremony, he told stories about his life, moving quickly in and out of sorrow and gratitude.
After the military, he worked for a time as an X-ray technician in the Los Angeles area and then pursued what would be a lifelong career in the printing business. He moved to Santa Cruz County with his wife, Wanda, and their children in 1972 after the whole family fell in love with the area during vacations.
They had four children, including a son, Clifford Roberson, who served as a decorated medic in the Vietnam War. His wife died in 2007 and four months later, he lost a middle son in a motorcycle accident. When Roberson tells this part of the story, he tears up momentarily.
“I’ve led a good life. I’ve tried to be the person my mother wanted me to be. I’ve always tried to be honest and to treat my fellow man with dignity.”
Roberson volunteered for years with the Seventh Day Adventist church and the Capitola Museum. He also co-authored a history book, “Soquel.”
Although he quickly tires these days and is unable to run the printing equipment in his garage, he continues to broker orders for Rosco Printing, a company he took over in 1984 and now runs from a home office.
“I guess I’ll be Rosco Printing until I die,” he said. “I’m not afraid of death. I’ve told the good Lord, I’m ready when he’s ready.”
Hospice is looking for veterans who are willing to volunteer because they can offer a camaraderie and understanding that others may not have. For information, call 430-3000 or visit www.hospicesantacruz.org.