By JON MARK BEILUE – email@example.com
They move mostly in wheelchairs, some in walkers. Some are engaged in activities like Bingo, dominoes or poker. Others wear the mask of a blank faraway look, the evidence of time’s tearing away at their once-vibrant minds and bodies.
At one time, they were in the armed services, engaging in battles in World War II and Korea. Decades later, these military veterans are living out their twilight years at the Ussery-Roan Texas State Veterans Home, a state-owned facility for the aging that caters exclusively to veterans and their spouses.
“For most of the veterans who come here, this is their last home,” said Chris Crabtree, on-site representative for the Texas Veterans Land Board, which has owned the building and license since the facility opened in 2007.
There are 90 veterans at Ussery-Roan, and about 25 of their spouses. There are 28 in the memory support unit, a locked unit for those with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
They come from within a 300-mile radius of Amarillo, referrals from the Veterans Affairs Health Care System in Amarillo.
Requirements are that residents must be a Texas veteran or have enlisted in Texas, but, because of location, Ussery-Roan accepts those from eastern New Mexico and the Oklahoma Panhandle, like Roy Ehly, 86, of Guymon, Okla.
Ehly served in the Army infantry at the end of World War II in the Philippines and in occupied Japan just after the war’s end.
He crossed paths several times with Gen. Douglas MacArthur in Tokyo, where they shared the same building.
“It’s what I make it,” Ehly said of life at Ussery-Roan since May 2012. “After my wife (Amelia) died (in July 2012), I didn’t care very much. But after a year, I’ve come out of it. I try to take in everything that goes on here.”
For the last two years, he has helped organize a car show, one of his longtime interests. The first year it was in Ussery-Roan’s parking lot at 1020 Tascosa Road. This past year, it had grown to the parking lot across the street at The Church at Quail Creek.
“I feel better when I do something like this,” Ehly said.
A staff of approximately 100 provides rehabilitation and long-term care. Cost, with veterans benefits as well as an aid/
attendance benefit for those who qualify, can be about $1,750 per month, which is about three times less expensive than other skilled nursing assisted living facilities.
“Everyone here requires extensive assistance in activities of daily living — bathing, dressing, feeding,” Crabtree said. “It’s just where they are in life.”
Like every Veterans Day, there will be a modest ceremony today featuring dancers from Oklahoma Panhandle State, a soloist from the Amarillo Opera and a special steak dinner.
Clyde Patrick, 85, has been at Ussery-Roan nearly a year.
He served with the Seventh Army Air Corps in the Pacific in World War II.
“I went in wearing khaki green,” he said, “and discharged in Air Force blue.”
He and wife Juanita were at their Pampa home last October, when Clyde fell while trying to install a storm door and broke his neck. He has been at Ussery-Roan since December.
“To be honest, I felt awful, just lonesome when I first got here,” he said.
Clyde has no immediate family other than his wife, who isn’t strong enough to make regular trips from Pampa.
When Patrick arrived, he could not sit up, move his arms or talk.
Now, through extensive rehab where some work with therapists two hours three to five times a week, Patrick can do all of that.
Like most Ussery-Roan residents, he is mostly confined to a wheelchair.
“They didn’t give up on me,” Patrick said. “They kept pushing me when I started lagging. There’s no comparison with the way I feel and move. This feels like another home now. They’ve been great to me.”
Eight therapists, led by director Bailie Cherry, work with the veterans, where the goal is to enhance daily quality of life.
Some have issues, such as joint problems or poor hearing, that reflect on wartime service. That’s combined with common aging ailments.
Residents can graduate from the rehab program, where their picture is taken with cap and gown, and they receive a certificate.
“This is special,” said Cherry, who has been at Ussery-Roan for a year. “I guess it’s knowing these men put their lives on the line for people like me at one point. I told my husband the other day I see a flag so differently.”
Never lost is that these patients — these people — are veterans.
It’s a patriotic thread that permeates the halls and rooms.
If a veteran dies in the facility, his gurney is covered with an American flag.
Residents line the hallways, some standing, most in wheelchairs, to salute while taps is played on the intercom.
It’s called The Last Salute.
“A lot of tears on that one,” Crabtree said.
Crabtree is a self-
described Army brat, a daughter of a West Point graduate.
She’s been at Ussery-Roan since the day it opened.
“This is my service,” she said. “The veterans that live here are not like many in other assisted facilities. They are humble and unassuming. Unless you directly ask them of their service, they’re not forthcoming, and some have lived remarkable lives.
“They just felt duty-bound to serve our country. For us, it’s an honor and duty to provide the utmost care and compassion for them in their final days.”