We responded to Joe's home today because he's vomiting blood. This is evident because his vomitus is a dark burgundy color. Joe is a tall fellow, stretched out in his bed. His bedroom is adorned with pictures of a young, strong soldier in a U.S. Army uniform. Cancer has damaged his internal organs causing him to have an iliostomy. A bag hangs from his abdomen catching his bodies' waste.
In 1942 however, something else hung before Joe's abdomen -- a mitt for catching would-be scoring runs! Joseph was part of the U.S. Army 30th Infantry, Battery C, Third Division. There were three divisions in the 30th I.D. At Camp Davis in North Carolina, Joe played shortstop for the Army's team. He was very proud of this and shared it openly with me.
Since the 1940's Joe and his wife (I'm assuming deceased) have had three children; two boys, Joey and Mickey both in Florida and one daughter. The daughter is local but unable to care for her father. Joseph, more fortunate than most, is cared for by a very loving daughter in-law with the brightest brown eyes I've ever seen. They look like she's wearing cosmetic contact lenses, though I doubt that's the case. She tells me her father died many years ago. Joe has done all the things a father does for her. For that she is eternally grateful - and unceasingly helpful.
I asked Joe: "If you had to do it all over again, would you?" Surprisingly, Joe said "no." It had been my experience with Veterans that they usually answer with a resounding "yes!" Joe continued: "I don't like to see men kill or be killed."
Rapidly Joe changed subjects to his favorite - his family. He mentioned that the "Garand" rifle he carried had his wife and newborn sons names inscribed into it. He described his weapon and some of the other devices he carried; bandoleer, white phosphorus grenade, regular grenades and a bazooka round in his back pack.
When asked about memorable moments, he cites being involved in the "Battle of the Bulge." He says this with pride and raises his voice. Apparently, Joseph's squad had General Sepp Deitrich, of Hitler's army, surrender to them at the Elbe River, one of the major waterways of central Europe, on May 8, 1945. While taking General Deitrich into captivity, Joe disarmed him. He removed a P38 from his holster and was about to take his belt too. Joe's CO (commanding officer) admonished him saying: "He has no weapon. What are you going to do have his pants fall down too?" Joe refrained from taking the General's belt but kept the handgun.
Later, Joe was firing the P38 to see how well it worked. "I fired it at the side of a boxcar. I think I missed!" He sold the weapon for $200.00. I replied "you could have made a lot more money had you kept it!" Joe said, "yeah, I know but they were such a pain in the ass to sneak home. Had it been a Luger, that would have been more of a souvenir."
I left Joe in the E.R. with the diagnoses of a GI bleed. He was stable and seemed comfortable with this new chapter in his history of diminishing health. Despite the diagnoses and knowing he would be there for quite some time. He thanked me with a hearty hand-shake and called me by name. I never recall having hugged or kissed a patient or their family member. Today, for some reason, I hugged and kissed his daughter-in-law and wished her strength.
I knew I was leaving the room and not likely to see his countenance again. I was leaving behind a living page in American history - a young, strong soldier in a U.S. Army uniform.