Vietnam Veteran serves as Meals on Wheels Volunteer

Gary was born and raised in Southern California. He graduated from high school in 1959. Gary didn’t have a plan of what he wanted to do with his life, but he needed a job. He began applying for jobs at every business he came to and was offered a position at an animal hospital. He accepted the position even though he had no real interest in pursuing a career with animals. Within a short period of time, Gary began working as a veterinary assistant and thoughts of becoming a veterinarian crossed his mind.  Gary had not done well in school and felt doubtful that he had the necessary academic abilities. The veterinarian that Gary worked for was less doubtful though, and began encouraging Gary to go to school, eventually Gary agreed.

While at Davis, Gary met Valerie, she was an art major and immediately caught his attention. Gary and Valerie fell in love and were married in 1966. Their first child was born in April of 1968.

By the time Gary graduated U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine in June of 1968, the Vietnam War had consumed the country, and there was a draft to enlist soldiers. Because of Gary’s attendance at U.C. Davis, he was able to enlist through a student deferment program. The program allowed him to complete school as a reservist and upon graduation he was immediately enlisted to active duty. In April of 1969 he received his orders to report to Vietnam.

Gary spent one very long year in Vietnam. During that year in Vietnam, he missed the birth of his second child, he witnessed the sickness and dying of soldiers and indigenous people, and fought against loneliness, enemy booby traps and the horrors of the Vietnam War. That year in Vietnam was the single most significant year of his entire life. Gary felt fortunate to exchange letters back and forth with his wife that year and not have to be in combat, but he did not escape unscathed.

 Like most of the other veterinarians in active duty, Gary was assigned to a station to inspect incoming food. After a few months working at the food inspection station, he was offered an option to provide care to the military scout dogs. The scout dogs and their handlers played an essential role in military operations. Before soldiers were sent in to a new area, the dog and handler were sent in first to scout the trail to look for grenades, booby traps, trip wires and other enemy activity. This scouting position was referred to as “walking point”. The scout dogs were well trained, and were tested regularly in an open field near the base. When one of the dogs failed to identify a smoke grenade or other training device, Gary would be called in to examine the dog and treat whatever illness the dog might be suffering from that caused him not to be performing as trained.

The second half of the year in Vietnam, there were more veterinarians than there were positions for them, and Gary was assigned to civic action. He and his interpreter traveled by Jeep into the villages to teach the indigenous people how to care for their farm animals and pets and how to safely butcher livestock to reduce disease.

One of the most prevalent diseases at that time, was rabies. So many dogs had it. If a person had been bitten by an infected dog, they would often die. Gary once encountered a family with an infected puppy who had bitten all three of the young children. All of the children would have died had Gary not been able to help them get treatment.

There were so many orphanages. Almost every different religious group from the United States was operating an orphanage there and the local Buddhists had orphanages also. “It wasn’t all bad, there were some good times there also” recalls Gary as he tells about sneaking ice cream into an orphanage.

In April of 1970, Gary returned from Vietnam. He took the state board exams in June and passed them. Gary moved around a bit, from Southern California to a small practice in Oregon and then back to California.  In 2013, Gary and his wife retired and began looking for a place to live that would allow them to enjoy a slower pace, they found Ukiah.

Gary and his wife were interested in volunteering and so they contacted North Coast Opportunities’ Volunteer Network. They began volunteering through the Schools of Hope reading program, but after a year, Gary decided that the Meals on Wheels program was a better fit. He immediately fell in love with the program. “It’s so nice to see the smiles, and it’s hard to believe that something so simple could bring someone so much joy. They are so grateful. We take the plastic off the meal for one lady because she can’t see, then we tell her what the meal is. She gets so excited when we bring a cupcake or treat” Gary said.

Gary and his wife celebrated 52 years of marriage just a month ago, and he contributes the success of his marriage in part to the year that he spent in Vietnam. That year helped he and his wife learn to rely on each other.

Gary was recognized as Meals on Wheels Volunteer of the Year at the 2018 Plowshares Volunteer Appreciation Event. Over the past year and a half, Gary has selflessly given numerous hours to support the Meals on Wheels program. He has been a server, runner and driver, he has even hand-crafted wooden toys which were sold at the annual Plowshares fundraiser.

Gary is a hero. He was a hero during the time he served in Vietnam and he is a hero today serving through the Meals on Wheels program. Thank you Gary for your service!

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From Cold War to Coronation

From Cold War to Coronation

 

From Cold War to Coronation, horse and wagon to Rolls Royce. “It was like sitting in an armchair” said Meals on Wheels recipient Maureen Royale as she recalls her experience being chauffeured in a Rolls Royce. Maureen’s last name is uniquely parallel to the life she lived which can be described as nothing short of extraordinary. She describes her life’s adventures full of travel, adventure, and even a royal invitation to attend the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. I might have found it hard to believe that this 90 year old retired nurse from Australia had actually received an invitation to the palace if I hadn’t seen it myself.

I had spoken with Maureen many times on the phone when she called to make requests regarding her Meals on Wheels delivery. I never expected to meet her, until one day she called inquiring about her meal that had not yet been delivered. After speaking with her for a few moments and apologizing for the mix-up, I decided that I would personally deliver her a box of food. She gave me the directions to her home, I loaded the food into my car, and followed the directions to a beautiful neighborhood at the north end of Ukiah. Maureen met me at the door and invited me in. She invited me to sit at her dining room table. I set the box of food on the table and sat down as she began sharing her life journey with me.

Maureen talked about meeting her dear friend Lorraine and how they adventured together through Russian occupied Vienna during the Cold War, travelled by boat through the Suez Canal and shared about their experience riding a camel to the Egyptian Pyramids. Maureen reminisced about the many churches that she had visited in Rome, the art in Florence and hitchhiking in Great Britain and Ireland. Maureen told me about her invitation to the coronation and how she observed the coronation from a seat in Hyde Park. She also spoke about her attendance at a royal garden party at the palace in July. As Maureen recalled the glorious invitation to the palace, she rose from her chair and walked towards the dining hall hutch. She carefully picked up a colorful box. Tucked away neatly inside the box was the framed invitation to the palace. I caught my breath, imagining her as a young woman receiving this invitation.

Maureen spoke about growing up on a farm in a family of 10 children. She understood the value of hard work. At the age of 29, she passed her GED with flying colors even though she had not attended school since 12 years old. Maureen obtained an RN certificate in California, Canada, Australia and England. Although she spent much of her life working as a private care nurse, she ended her career as an auditor for Blue Cross.

I listened intently as Maureen shared her many adventures. I imagined her and her friend Lorraine…vibrant young women with the world at their fingertips. “But it wasn’t always so glamourous” Maureen stated. “Look at me now! The only part of me that still functions is my cerebrum” she said laughing out loud.  As she paused to check her 2:30 p.m. blood pressure and take her pills, she invited me to view the photographs and paintings on the hall walls. I walked down the hall towards a small bedroom and noticed a colorful painting hanging on the wall next to a landscape of London. Maureen explained to me that the colorful painting had been painted by her son Jeffrey. She smiled as she retold stories of travelling with Jeffery, her daughter Dianna and her husband. They had visited Australia several times, toured the United Nations building, and even toured the streets of Washington D.C. Maureen laughed as she recalled touring the main streets of Washington while driving a car with a broken muffler. “It was so loud!” she said.

I sat there eagerly listening to this incredible story filled with adventure, royal invitations, the struggles of raising a child with Down syndrome, and the incredible passion of this amazing woman.

My mood quickly sobered though, as if waking from a fairy-tale dream. I noticed the Lifealert band on Maureen’s wrist and the bottles of medication on the table. I asked Maureen about her daily routine and she told me, “I wake up each morning, I put my eye drops in and then I phone my daughter. My daughter who lives in North Carolina, usually cannot answer when I call because she is busy at work, but she knows that I have called and that I am okay. I walk to the dining room and open the curtain so that my neighbor knows that I am awake and okay. I have to have a routine to take care of my body” she said.

As my time with Maureen came to a close, I asked her about the significance of the Meals on Wheels program. “My caregiver comes several times a week, but I do not have any family close and do not cook. I wouldn’t have anything to eat without these meals, and the people who bring them are so nice. This is how I survive” Maureen stated.

 

Written by Traci Boyl, as told by Maureen Royale