Two Lives Entwined
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by Frank Shortt
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Recently, my wife and I were informed that one of my uncles, Bill, has terminal cancer
of the brain. Also, my uncle Alvie has incurable Parkinsonís Disease. This is what decided us to visit the Tacoma area. What we found
there was really difficult to swallow.
Uncle Bill and Uncle Alvie both live in the Tacoma, Washington area. They chose to live there,
after retirement, because of the closeness of the hospital facilities at the McCord/Ft. Lewis military installations. Uncle Bill is
a retired U.S. Army Sergeant, Uncle Alvie is a retired U.S.A.F. Sergeant.
Uncle Bill served
during the Vietnam Conflict and with a special unit in South Korea as advisor to the ROK Armed Forces with the threat of Communist
aggression in North Korea looming constantly. He also served at several bases stateside, as well as Okinawa. He is now nearing 76
years of age.
Uncle Alvie served with the USAF during the Korean Conflict of the early
1950ís. His job was in the Armament division. He later served the remainder of his service, which included the Vietnam War, in peacetime
Germany, Okinawa, Great Falls, Montana, Panama City, Florida, and Hamilton AFB outside San Francisco, etc. He is now 80 years of age.
Bill and Alvie both grew up in rural Buchanan County, Virginia. Their families had close
ties, as my father married Billís sister, Stella. Uncle Billís father, my maternal grandfather, originally bought his property from
my paternal grandfather. Both boys attended Grimsleyville Elementary School. Bill attended part of his high school days at Garden
High School at Oakwood, Virginia and the remainder of his schooling was at Elkridge, Maryland. Alvie finished his schooling in the
While both were stationed in Okinawa, one day Bill went to the B.X. to purchase
a few things for his family. Who should be out front volunteering to collect money for American Vets, but Uncle Alvie. They continued
to visit while there but were separated when each were sent to other bases. They were once again joined when they both decided to
retire in the Tacoma area. They attended the same church as long as they were able. They would also have visits between families.
The constant upheaval of moving from place to place has taken a toll on both menís health.
Bill has married twice, Alvie has married twice. Alvieís later years in the Air Force was in nuclear weapons. Bill has not discussed
the secret things he was required to do in Korea.
It is very difficult to see both these, once strong men, dwindling slowly away.
They were both my playmates in Virginia. Alvie was my old hunting partner. Many of my nights were spent at Grandpaís house. Bill and
I, along with my siblings, ran the ridges and hills of Appalachia, like Billy goats.
Alvieís hands tremble uncontrollably. His fingers have become almost claw-like making it difficult for him to pick up a cup or glass
to drink. His son, Bernie, is a potter and made a cup with two handles so that Alvie can drink easier. I was astonished to see him
in his bent-over condition. He, and his second wife, Aunt Polly, who has Alzheimerís Disease, now reside at Patriotís Landing, an
assisted-living facility in Washington. Bernie is in charge of making sure they are well taken care of. He does a wonderful job! Could
this have been brought on, or speeded up, by Uncle Alvieís handling of nuclear weapons?
Uncle Bill shows the results of being in constant pain. His few lucid moments are wracked with a constant pain in his head as well
as from broken ribs which he gained from a fall at home before the medical authorities realized what his real trouble was. It began
with lung cancer and spread to his brain. He has had several heart failures through the years. This is especially hard for his wife
and daughter , as well as his ultra-bright five-year old, granddaughter. Their entire life has become one of taking care and watching
after Uncle Bill in the hospice facility at the local Veteranís Hospital.
This has caused
me moments of grave reflection. How would I respond to having to be constantly cared for by strangers? How would I like being away
from my familiar surroundings? How would I feel having to depend on medicines and pain killers to sustain the life in my body? How
would I respond to not even being able to feed myself?
I have drawn this conclusion. I
do not believe that I would enjoy those things very well!