NJDC2A retired Green Beret, Norman Johnson, was once a hospice patient in our Mineral Wells, Texas location. He served in the United States Army from age 17 in 1955 until 1975 when he retired at 37. Norman 'Norm' passed away in August of 2013 from cancer. His physician deemed that Norm's diseases were caused by the chemicals, specifically Agent Orange, he was exposed to while in Vietnam.

After his death, his wife Ann began the journey of trying to have Norm's name added to the 'In Memory'* program. In order for veterans to receive this honor, they must first meet certain criteria. For instance, they may not meet the Department of Defense's criteria to be 'on the wall' but their death must have occurred as an indirect result of the Vietnam War. While Norman didn't die in Vietnam, his passing years later was a direct result of his time served there. Norman didn't lose his life in Vietnam, but his death was ultimately caused by his time and service there.

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Because of this, in March of 2015, Ann was notified that Norm had been accepted into the program and would be recognized along with 165 other soldiers as part of the 'In Memory Honor Roll.' Ann was also told that her late husband's name would be read aloud at the National Vietnam War Memorial in Washington DC on June 20th  of 2015.

 

The hard work of seeing her husband formally honored, Ann's goal, was complete. All Ann had to do was make it to the capital. Unfortunately, Ann does not fly and wouldn't be able to make the drive alone. After all of her efforts to honor her late husband's memory and service, she wasn't going to be able to make the trip for the ceremony.

Enter Megan Brock.

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Megan is the volunteer coordinator of IntegraCare Hospice of Mineral Wells, Texas. Her son, just like Norm, recently enlisted in the Army National Guard a month after he turned 17 and left for Ft. Benning, Georgia on June 8. After he graduates basic training on August 20, he will return home to finish out his last year of high school before returning to Ft. Benning.

This, added with the knowledge that Norm had fought for our country and later died because of it at our Hospice tugged at her heartstrings, and she immediately told Ann that she would take her to Washington. There was no way she could let her miss the ceremony.

Trading in her summer vacation to Florida, she requested PTO, and together they left on June 17 for Washington. During their visit, they stayed at the Fort Myers Army and Air Force Base at Arlington, Virginia.

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Upon arrival, Ann and Megan walked out of the gates at the base and into Arlington National Cemetery and the emotions were overwhelming. Together they looked out on row after row of white crosses, a powerful and heart-wrenching depiction of the thousands of brave soldiers who lost their lives fighting for our country.  

They continued their walk through the peaceful cemetery and were able to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, the Changing of the Guard, and the final resting place of late President John F. Kennedy.

On Saturday, June 20, they arrived at the wall and were met with an instant, unstoppable flow of tears. With heavy hearts they touched the wall. Names of those who lost their lives as a direct result of the Vietnam War cascade down the wall. Ann and Megan were touched by the never-ending names and reminded of the names of individuals like Norm who died as an indirect result of their service and whose names would never make it on the wall.

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Several of Norman's fellow service men and friends from all over the world were able to travel for the ceremony. It was an emotional service, and as each surviving family member took a turn on the podium to speak the name of their deceased loved one, they held a special plaque made for each individual being honored. These plaques would be added to the In Memory Honor Roll.

 

Afterwards, loved ones were able to place the plaques and any personal items at the wall in a special place. Ann, in memory of Norman, left his ponytail which had been removed after his passing, a love letter in a box, and his plaque.

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"I can only imagine how difficult and emotional that day was for her," Megan said. "But her love for Norm, and the strength of that love, got her through this journey and successfully gave him the honor and recognition he deserved."

After the ceremony, Ann and Megan toured the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument and the Holocaust Museum in addition to visiting the White House and the Pentagon. The next day, they drove back home to Mineral Wells. Megan was grateful and humbled to share the experience with Ann and to be able to take her on the trip so that she could be a part of the ceremony.

Just a few months before the trip, Megan had initiated the We Honor Veterans program, and what she learned in DC will be valuable to implementation of the hospice program. 

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"We have an amazing team in this office," Megan said. "[We] go above and beyond for our patients. This is much more than a job for me, it's a passion." Megan plans to spread the word and help educate others about the In Memory program, as well as The Honor Flight. "We would not have the freedoms we have today, if not for the many, such as Norm, who fought for our country."

 

*The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund's (VVFM) In Memory program honors those who died as a result of the Vietnam War but whose deaths do not fit the Department of Defense criteria for inclusion upon the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. - See more  about the In Memory program and how the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVFM) is working to get all veterans, regardless of the severity or type of their wounds honored on the wall.