First Person

The Jeep on the TV

This is an excerpt from Chaplain Dale Swan’s book “Hospice Hope.”

Harris was a veteran of World War II and was very proud of his military service. In my first visit with him, one thing seemed to stand out in his living room. There on the television set was a little toy jeep. I thought perhaps it belonged to one of his grand kids and remarked about it. Harris said, “No, that’s my jeep, and it’s there to remind me that God can get me through anything.”

He then proceeded to tell me his World War II story about fighting in Italy, and one event that was forever placed in his memory. He was traveling in a jeep along a road in Italy, while his staff sergeant was driving. Suddenly his jeep hit a roadside bomb and blew the jeep and its two riders in the air. Unbelievably, both he and his sergeant sustained only some bruises and cuts. They both got on their knees and thanked God for the miracle of surviving the blast. Harris said he has always kept a little jeep around to remind him of the event and of God’s care.

This story took a turn when the very next week I was in another part of the city seeing a couple in our hospice program. We were doing some history giving and they shared that they had met just before World War II broke out and fell in love. They decided to wait to marry, but Shirley remarked that she almost didn’t get Sam back from the war—he almost died! What happened made my jaw drop. He began to tell a story of traveling with his captain in a jeep in Italy. He was a staff sergeant, and they ran over a roadside bomb which blew up the jeep but neither of them were seriously hurt. 

I couldn’t believe I was hearing the same story within a week. I asked if they had stayed in contact and he said that Captain Harris lived in a different state and they had lost touch many, many years ago. At this point I wondered what to do— with the privacy rules in health care one cannot say the name of another patient. Now this is back in the day when we had these large volumes around our houses called “phone books”. I said something to the effect of, “Well, you never know where people move to. Maybe you should check the phone book, and you might find him. And wouldn’t it be great to get together with someone so important from your past?”

The next day he did just that, and the two old soldiers were able to be reunited by a “miracle” of grace. It was a wonderful two-person support group that helped both of them immeasurably to cope with their hospice situations. Knowing how my own father felt about the soldiers that he was with in World War II, there is an undeniable everlasting bond that you will take to the end of your life.   

I was once asked by the wife of a patient in a facility to encourage him to allow the priest to come and give him last rites. Henry had not been to the parish for a long time, but he was open to chaplain visits only because he had fond memories of a good friendship in World War II in Italy with the Catholic Army chaplain. Henry loved to tell how he was picked to drive Father Janssen around in his jeep to perform services and rites for the soldiers.

Henry’s wife just wanted him to have this sacrament of anointing so he could be at peace when he died. I asked him over the course of a few months, and finally, as he knew he was declining, he said it was okay. I immediately called the parish. To my disappointment their priest was out of town and not available. They said they would have to get an older retired priest from another city to come for the anointing.

When I saw Henry the next week, this priest had already been there. Henry was so thankful, but his big question was—how did I ever find Father Janssen? To my amazement, as it turned out, this retired priest was the very Catholic chaplain he had been with in Italy in 1945! Henry said this made him feel that God was indeed with him and his wife felt he was truly at peace when he died just a few days later. She told me later that Henry thought I was a “miracle worker”—that somehow, I had scoured the country to find this long lost priest and be reunited with his old war buddy to pray just for him.

Sometimes it is just the sheer unaided work of the Spirit in ways we can’t explain. I believe that God can direct our paths during the day, sometimes in the most unusual ways, and then take us on a journey of discovery, meaningful relationships, and learning the joy of giving and receiving.

You can buy the book here on Amazon

Hospice Chaplaincy is committed to promoting excellence in spiritual care at the end of life. Our mission is to advance research initiatives that promote a better understanding of the psychosocial and psycho-spiritual aspects of end of life care. We are dedicated to providing patient advocacy, support and education services to individuals, clergy and medical professionals resulting in improvements in providing quality spiritual care at the end of life.

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