Earlier in my career, I was the executive director of a retirement community in Mesa. When I started the job, I met a resident named Joe.
It’s not polite, but with Joe’s hulking frame he reminded me of Shrek, the green ogre of movie fame. Unlike the friendly Shrek, Joe wore a permanent scowl, motored around aggressively on his scooter and rarely associated with others. He was intimidating and kind of scary. Others felt similarly.
Boy, were we wrong.
One day I learned that Joe had served in the Army in the Vietnam War and that he had rescued his platoonmates from an ambush by the North Vietnamese. He was a hero.
Like so many Vietnamese and Vietnam vets, Joe was exposed to Agent Orange, and it seriously damaged his health including robbing him of his ability to walk. Joe looked 10 or more years older than his actual age.
I became friends with “My Joe,” as I took to calling him. Under his gruff exterior was a heart of gold. I learned that he and his late wife had foster parented hundreds of children and even adopted 10 of them.
Just as Joe was coming out of his shell, his health took a bad turn landing him in the hospital. He eventually died there.
I went to Joe’s funeral at the National Memorial Cemetery of Arizona. I was floored when I arrived. More than 400 people were present, which spoke volumes about his impact. I always remember My Joe this time of year, along with all the other veterans. We owe them so much.
Corporate Director of Sales
Sun Health Senior Living
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