A Tribute to My Dad, a POW, and a Veteran of Two very Different Wars

Me and my Dad

Today I honor the Veteran I loved the most by remembering my Father’s last battle and his ultimate Victory.  My Dad was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, the survivor of three and a half years as a prisoner of war, and the ulimate survivor of a five year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Several years ago a very public man suggested that those who face this last and most cruel battle are “Really not here.”  At the time I was compelled to respond in rebuttal because to remain silent, would be a disservice to my family and my father.  This adaptation of that post is not a rebuttal.  It is my tribute to my dad.  A man who suffered so profoundly for our freedom. Who deserved my respect and love even in his worst hours of suffering.

My dad admires my watch.

My dad went to heaven after suffering from Alzheimer’s for over five years.  In the end he recognized no one, and could carry on no meaningful conversation.  His every need had to be taken care of by others.   He spent much time staring blankly into space.  But he mattered. 

One of the last times I visited dad, he simply held my hand and ran his rough, work hardened fingers over the face of my watch.  “That’s a nice watch,” he said, over and over again.  This was the man who survived unthinkable punishment as a POW defending my freedom. This was the man that taught me how to hunt and ride a horse.  This was the man loved to take us fishing.  The fingers that gently traced the outline of my watch were the  same fingers that showed me how to put a worm on a hook.  My dad wasn’t good with saying I love you with words, but I got the message when those rough hands would tousle my hair.

Dad’s was as much of a hero battling Alzhiemer’s as he was defending our country.  God’s admonition to  “Honor your father and mother” doesn’t only apply to those in excellent mental health.  Because dad’s spirit had been dimmed by this horrible disease never gave anyone the right to diminish his value as a person.  The suggestion that he “wasn’t there anymore” was cruel and dead wrong.

This blog is written with deep empathy for those who have cared for a  loved one with Alzheimer’s.  I understand the toll this disease takes on caregivers.  I saw my mom suffer profoundly as she watched dad become a shell of the man he had once been.  I watched her suffer trying to care for his daily needs and grieve when other caregivers had to be found.  Eventually loving professionals were enlisted to take care of dad, but to the end, he was mom’s husband and our beloved father.

I think the following story by an unknown author captures the compassion that reflects the kind of love those who fight this battle deserve.

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It was a busy morning, approximately 8:30 am, when an elderly gentleman, in his 80′s, arrived to have stitches removed from his thumb. He stated that he was in a hurry as he had an appointment at 9:00 am. I took his vital signs and had him take a seat, knowing it would be over an hour before someone would to able to see him.

I saw him looking at his watch and decided, since I was not busy with another patient, I would evaluate his wound. On exam, it was well healed, so I talked to one of the doctors, got the needed supplies to remove his sutures and redress his wound.

While taking care of his wound, we began to engage in conversation. I asked him if he had a doctor’s appointment this morning, as he was in such a hurry. The gentleman told me no, that he needed to go to the nursing home to eat breakfast with his wife. I then inquired as to her health. He told me that she had been there for a while and that she was a victim of Alzheimer Disease.

As we talked, and I finished dressing his wound, I asked if she would be worried if he was a bit late. He replied that she no longer knew who he was, that she had not recognized him in five years now.

I was surprised, and asked him. “And you still go every morning, even though she doesn’t know who you are?”

He smiled as he patted my hand and said. “She doesn’t know me, but I still know who she is.”    Author Unknown
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I am so thankful that no matter what our condition, God still knows who we are.  No matter how decrepit or deranged he remembers the price that was paid for our redemption.  Because of who He is and his love for us, he will never leave us or forsake us.

Dear friends,  If at some future date you find me staring into the distance because this disease has wracked my mind and body.  I ask you not to cast me off. 

Please visit me. 

Hold my hand.

Let me touch your watch and sense from some deep place in my soul that you love me.

I ask you to believe that until I go to heaven and look into the face of Christ………….

I am here!!

Dads grip and his faint smile tells it all. He knows he is loved.

And after that, I will be with my father.

My Father, Kenneth Earl Davis, “Prisoner of War and Prisoner of Alzheimer’s,” was set free on April 18, 2006 and promoted to life “Fully Alive and Eternally Free.”

The story of the impact our father’s experience had on our life is recorded in “Forged by War.”  A tribute to my father written by my sister, Candie Blankman.

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • amjor2

    Wow…thank you!

  • Michelle P.

    Thank you for this post… I spent a beautiful few hours with my Grandma and Grandpa this past summer. My Grandma has fought a battle against Ahlzheimer’s for over 10 years. The Battle rages on and my Grandpa stood by her side, visiting her daily, fighting for her care until he passed away from Pneumonia. Now her sons and daughters do the same.

    As I sat with my Grandma this summer – she had no idea who I was, she had told my dad just minutes before that he should “just leave me alone you big hairy toad” that comment hurt him and I could see it in his eyes. We left the room to visit with Grandpa for a few minutes and then I returned and sat by my Grandma’s bed, held her hand in mine and began talking. She pulled away at first and once told me to shut up, but as I shared stories of our childhood visits to her house, her great grandkids and their wonderful personalities – she relaxed. I remember thinking when my Grandpa died just a month later that his struggle with this horrible disease was finally over. For her and my dad, aunts, uncles and us grandkids -it continues. We fight on for her.

    A final story as it does my heart good to share with people that even with this horrible disease eating away at her brain she is still truly there and loved by so many. Just the day before we visited she had been sitting in her room at the nursing home when she asked the nurse – “Can you take me to see that man who comes in here and tells me we’ve been married for 64 years?” The nurse took her down the hall to his room and they sat and talked about the kids and the grandkids and life on the farm. I am sure my Grandpa did most of the remembering that day, but she talked about family and being thankful for having family. She had not been down to see him since they had to assign them to separate rooms because of her disease (over a year had passed)… The trips were always made by him. Just 2 weeks later my Grandpa left the nursing home for the hospital with pneumonia. God has given him his rest now and I pray and know that one day when my Grandma is granted that same rest – He will be there waiting for her at the gates of heaven and they will rejoice that she no longer has to have all the pieces of her life filled in for her!

  • Bob Romig

    Thanks Ken,
    As I said a while back on a previous blog on the topic, his spirit knew you were there and appreciated your presence. Spirit never misses a beat, never forgets… may not be able to break through as the human body takes it’s final turns but one day in eternity
    he’ll probably share with you how much he was glad you were there!

    Pastor Bob

    Eveleth MN

  • Becky Collum

    God Bless You All , I have been an Alzheimers Nurse for most of my 30 years of Nursing , I Pray that people would just realize that these folks have so much to offer if we would just take the time to be there . If non vocal , touch and looking into their eyes can cross that bridge sometimes . Every human being needs touch and love , You have portrayed your father with such a sincere depth of respect and Love that it pours from your tribute and your photo’s . You are both indeed Blessed to have been given each other by our God . AMAZING LOVE !!!!!!!!! Please know that you are a very special son .

  • Diana

    Thank you so very much for sharing this. Some of us do need this encouragement because we do have husbands and wives and we need to love them as the Father loves us. And yes sometimes it is difficult but when we ask for God’s grace he is ever faithful to fill us with His Holy love and we are blessed for our obedience to love others.