MINOOKA — Bill Wunderlich was expecting company to help him celebrate his 92nd birthday recently in his Minooka home. But he didn’t expect the Hospice volunteer veterans who came to pay tribute to the U.S. Navy veteran.
Wunderlich was surrounded by his children, grandchildren and a few friends when Tom Naughton, Marine Corp veteran, and Larry Koppen, Navy Veteran, conducted the pinning ceremony.
Wunderlich’s five adult children were presented with a certificate of thanks for the support of their father as a serviceman and a veteran. They were then pinned with an American flag, as was he.
A Naval flag was draped across Wunderlich’s lap for the ceremony. Tears filled his eyes as he sat in his easy chair being honored by fellow veterans.
Wunderlich joined the U.S. Navy in 1944. He later boarded the tank landing ship U.S.S. LST 876 in Evansville, Ind. It sailed through rivers to the Pacific Ocean and landed in Okinawa, Japan in May 1945.
“We were the first wave to go on Okinawa,” he said. “We opened the doors of the ship and they told us to make smoke. They didn’t want the air fighters to know where we were.”
As patriotic music played in the background, Naughton read an essay of what it means to be a true sailor, the lifetime friendships that are made and what a compliment it is to be called a shipmate.
“We thank you,” said Naughton, “you are a good shipmate.”
Naughton also read information about Wunderlich’s ship, when it was commissioned and where it sailed.
Wunderlich was presented with a flag that had flown over the capitol in memory of a U.S. Army Captain who lost his life in Guadalcanal. First the flag was unfolded and held in front of Wunderlich by Naughton and Koppen. They stood at attention, in salute, while the Star Spangled Banner played.
Wunderlich and his guests proudly sang along.
“The veterans have been so good to me,” he said through tears of joy and pride as he was handed the folded flag. “This is going to be so wonderful for my family.”
Joliet Area Community Hospice provides the pinning ceremony as a service to all their veteran clients whether at the Hospice facility or in home care, Business Development Coordinator Jodi Wulff said.
Some choose not to have it because it brings back too many difficult memories, Wulff said.
“Others want it as a way of passing on history,” she said.
Although Wunderlich is in Hospice home care, he is he doing well, his son Jeff Wunderlich said.
Koppen brought along a video on his iPad of a tank landing ship, the last one in existence, similar to the one which Wunderlich served on. It too is stationed in Evansville, Ind., where he had boarded his vessel nearly 68 years ago.
Wunderlich beamed when he saw the video of the ship sailing across the iPad screen.
When the pinning ceremony was over, there was Dairy Queen ice cream for everyone to celebrate his birthday. Wunderlich got a special one — his favorite mudslide sundae.
The ceremony meant a lot to Wunderlich. He cried tears of joy because he is the happiest when he is crying, he said.
“God Bless America and all the veterans, especially the veterans who lost their lives,” Wunderlich said. “God Bless those who were fortunate enough to come home and all our future vets.”
——— HONOR SYSTEM ———
Joliet Area Community Hospice (JACH) has been honored to provide services for thousands of veterans since 1982 and now enhances that care with Joliet Area Community Hospice’s Pride, Honor & Dignity (PHD) Veteran’s Program.
This comprehensive program focuses on respectfully celebrating veterans and providing care that recognizes the unique challenges that may exist in military families.
This program provides care for those who served with Pride, will Honor their lives and service to country, and offers the Dignity so richly deserved. Special expressions of gratitude and recognition for veterans on service, upon request, in the form of a unique “Pinning Ceremony." This ceremony, performed by Veteran Volunteers, takes place where the patient resides.