By EMILY GUEVARA
Vietnam veteran Bill Brown spent less than an hour in the newly unveiled Watkins-Logan-Garrison Texas State Veterans Home Wednesday, but he was already sold on his surroundings.
A friend of Samuel Garrison, one of the facility's namesakes, he came to support the memory of his friend, but in the process he also eyed a potential future home.
“I think these are outstanding units,” said Brown, 65, of Tyler, who served in the U.S. Army's 173rd Airborne. “I give it 100 percent.”
Brown was among roughly 600 people who turned out for a dedication ceremony on the grounds of the Watkins-Logan-Garrison Texas State Veterans Home in Tyler, near The University of Texas Health Science Center at Tyler. The home, built on 20 acres of land donated by the center, is the first of its kind in the state. Although it is the eighth veterans home built since 1997, it is the first to be built in a way to foster home-like living.
As the community celebrated the opening of this facility, local, state and national officials took the opportunity to praise the work of veterans and the service provided by this facility.
“With the opening of this facility, we honor the memories of three local heroes, Travis Earl Watkins, James Marion Logan and Samuel M. Garrison,” Smith County Judge Joel Baker said during the ceremony. “We are humbled by the sacrifices these men made to preserve freedom. In wartime and peace, they honorably served God, this nation and the great state of Texas. It is fitting that this facility should be named to honor them.”
State Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, said it was a Veterans Administration check every month that provided for him and his family after his father died serving in the United States Air Force.
“This country can never ever forget those who have served in our armed forces,” he said. “It is not good enough to have political rhetoric; it should be backed up with our resources and our heart and our soul. It is the reason we're here today living in this free country because of the veterans. Rhetoric is not enough.”
Eltife said although it is easy to get discouraged when reading or hearing about what is going on in the world today, learning about the lives of Watkins, Logan and Garrison will encourage.
“You will be uplifted,” he said. “You will be inspired. You will be grateful that you live in the United States of America, the greatest country in the world because of the service of these three gentlemen and all of the veterans sitting here today and all of the veterans that have gone before us and the men and women in uniform this very day around the world.”
The home is the eighth Texas State Veterans Home built in Texas since Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson authored the legislation when he was a state senator, creating the long-term care program in 1997. However, this home is the first to create a community-style living environment.
The home comprises 10 cottages and one common building. Each cottage can house 10 residents.
Inside, each cottage offers a lodge-like feel with high ceilings and a fireplace in the den.
Ten private rooms, each with its own bathroom, surround the hearth. Each cottage will be set up as a “non-lift” facility with overhead tracks and slings in each room to provide safe transport of residents who can't walk from bed to bath.
At the center of each cottage is an open kitchen, dining room and large table that can seat 12.
Family-style meals will be served at the table and residents will be able to participate in the cooking or check the refrigerator on their own time if they want to, said Britta Strickland, senior vice president of small-house development and operations for Touchstone Communities, the San Antonio-based facility managing the home.
“What appeals to me is the change in design,” Ms. Strickland said. “It's no longer an institutional setting, it's a home.”
The home is open to military veterans, their spouses, or parents of children who died in military service, Ms. Strickland said. Residents must need skilled nursing care.
The home was made possible through a $12 million grant from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, with the remaining 35 percent paid for by the Texas Veterans Land Board.
The Texas State Veterans Homes offer a broad spectrum of health care services, comprehensive rehabilitation programs, special diets, recreational activities, social services, libraries, and certified, secured Alzheimer's units, each with its own secured outdoor courtyard.
Federal, state and local leaders thanked all involved in bringing the home to Tyler.
Dr. Kirk Calhoun, president of the UT Health Science Center at Tyler, recalled how his father, who he described as a poor African-American kid from rural Georgia, joined a segregated military and served his country with honor.
“As a son I am so pleased and so touched to have had a very small contribution to helping this happen,” said Calhoun, referring to the donation of the land by the center.
Thomas P. Palladino, Texas Veterans Commission executive director, said 1.8 million military veterans call Texas home and that number is growing daily.
Borrowing a statement from former President Teddy Roosevelt he said, “If a man is good enough to shed his blood for his country than he is good enough to get a square deal afterward. And that's what this is, this is a square deal.”
John Garcia, deputy assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, recognized all military veterans and their families. He said Texas has a lot to be proud of regarding its history of military service. He also said the Veterans Administration is strong and working hard for veterans.
“Today as state (and) federal partners in this venture, we are making good our promise to our veterans,” Garcia, a Vietnam veteran, said. “So while wars have beginnings and endings, our duty to care for those who fought for them must never end.”
Patterson with the Texas General Land Office and chairman of the Texas Veterans Land Board said Texas has a legacy of military service no matter what the conflict.
“Texans will step up and answer the call, always have, always will,” said Patterson, a Vietnam veteran with 25 years of active and reserve military service. “And in doing so they need to be not rewarded because veterans don't need a hand, they don't need a handout, they just need the obligations and commitments and promises that were implied or inferred delivered and we are here today to deliver on one of those.”
Two of the three men for whom the home is named had family members at the ceremony.
Jason Branch, Watkins' grandson, urged the audience to follow in his grandfather's footsteps. Although he did not know his grandfather, he said he has learned a lot about him through researching family history and listening to the stories told by his mother and grandmother.
Watkins was a devoted husband, a man who appreciated beauty in the world, and a man who served on behalf of his country and his fellow soldiers, Branch said.
“And that's the challenge that I leave all of you with …,” he said. “Live a life of devotion. Devote yourselves to your God, to your country, to your family. Make and appreciate beautiful things from the smallest flower to the family portrait to a beautiful facility like this. And live a life of service, because in serving others we truly become free.”
Willie E. Garrison, widow of Samuel Garrison, said the opening of this facility would be a dream come true for her husband.
She said Garrison, who died in June, had wanted to fly since he was a boy. And he fulfilled that dream serving with the Tuskegee Airmen in the U.S. Army from 1942-46. She said he loved the military and when he left the service, he always encouraged young people to enlist, to get a good education and to reach for their dreams.
She said before he died they talked about this type of facility for veterans and their families.
“So I know this is a dream come true for him,” she said. “I know he is looking down this day overjoyed to be part of this beautiful dedication. He's probably saying, ‘honey, my dream came true.' Thank you. I'm truly honored that you selected my husband Samuel Garrison to be a part of this Watkins-Logan-Garrison Texas State Veterans Home.”