Albert (Art) Wheeler boarded the Aircraft Carrier USS Lexington (CV-16) in the Pacific Ocean over 70 years ago during WWII. The USS Lexington saw a great deal of combat and its frequent reappearance in combat, coupled with its blue camouflage scheme, earned Lexington the nickname “The Blue Ghost” 1. Art is a WWII USN combat veteran who served from 1941-1949 and is a remarkable example of our greatest generation.
As a Vermont Veteran Outreach Specialist and Bayada Hospice volunteer, I have been working with Art for about 6 months. In that time, the VA, Bayada, his family and I have been working collaboratively to meet Art’s needs and to make sure he is comfortable. In August during a wellness visit, Art expressed to me his love for music-specifically country and bluegrass. I thought it would be awesome if we could give Art the simple gift of music, during his last days. I spoke with Beverly Hill, Community Liason from Bayada Hospice who made a call to Rusty DeWees, a local Vermont artist known for his comedy, acting, writing, and most recently (10 Years) music. Bev asked Rusty if he would play his guitar for a veteran who is in hospice care.
On August 14th, Rusty pulled up a chair and sat directly across from Art, and began to play. Art thoroughly enjoyed Rusty’s brand of music and clapped after every song! The set list included “Truck Driving man, “O’l Joe Clark” and “You are my Sunshine” to name a few. After the show, as we left, Rusty shook the USN WWII Veteran’s hand and thanked him for his service.
I was also in touch with a friend and fellow veteran, Dwayne Williams, regarding his volunteer work with Healing Winds Vermont. This non-profit organization provides opportunities for people with cancer to go sailing on Lake Champlain. I spoke with Art and his family to see if they would be interested in going sailing and they were ecstatic!
On August 29th, our WWII USN Combat Veteran Pilot, Albert Wheeler, took to the beautiful waters of Lake Champlain on board the Gypsy Wind. Art donned a life vest and along with his floppy sun hat (and lots of sun screen), this old sailor was in his element.
Captain Ted and his volunteer crew of two, confidently maneuvered the 39 foot Gypsy Wind, out of Burlington Harbor and out onto the broad lake. Art really enjoyed the next two hours on the calm waters and even gave a “thumbs up” to show his appreciation.
As you may have guessed, a two hour sailing trip out on Lake Champlain can exhaust a 93 year old man. But, this special combat veteran sincerely enjoyed his time spent with the crew of the Gypsy Wind! As the sailboat came about and headed for home towards her berth, I looked at Art and he gave me an approving smile, which made the whole trip worthwhile.
The Vermont Veterans Outreach Program staff have very diverse backgrounds and many of them have served in the different branches of the military. Their commonality is that they know what our veterans are facing every day. The Vermont Veterans Outreach Program has a proven track record in getting the job done helping our veterans receive the services they need and have earned for their service to our country.
Veteran Outreach Feature Story