Passing Out Coins, And Thank-Yous, To World War II Veterans at the Dallas VA

Categories: Events, Politics

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Photos by Anna Merlan
Pearl Davis, at left, served as a flight nurse during World War II. And she rather liked the coin Eddie Bernice Johnson gave her some seven decades later.
"When do we get to go home?" Alice Gossett inquired, a little irritably. She wore brown pajamas and soft purple booties. Tiny in her wheelchair, her feet didn't quite reach the ground.

"As soon as we get our treat!" the nurse answered, beaming at her.

Gossett was not impressed. "Never mind our treat," she said. "We're ready to go, and I mean go all the way." The dozen or so people around her, most of them also sitting in wheelchairs, giggled softly.

On a grey afternoon this week at the Community Living Center at the Dallas VA Medical Center, the veterans knew they were waiting for someone important, even if not all of them were clear just who it was. Many didn't know that this is National Salute to Veterans Week. Approaching or in their 90s, some hadn't thought about their World War II service in many years.

"Something that long ago, you just don't think about it," Billy Matthews told me. He'll be 84 next month.

A few moments later, Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson bustled into the room, accompanied by an entourage of staffers. "I started my nursing career here at the VA," she told the vets. "I cannot express to you how much you have meant to this country."

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Billy Matthews, left, and Al Garrett of the U.S. Army Air Corps
The congresswoman gave each veteran a commemorative coin stamped with an image of Doris Miller, a Navy cook (and boxing champ) who fought during the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was the first African American soldier to be given a Navy Cross; he also won a Purple Heart, the American Defense Service Medal, a Fleet Clasp, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; and the World War II Victory Medal.

"He was a neighbor of mine growing up in Waco," Johnson told the veterans. "He was a friend of my father's." She passed out letters of thanks and coins to each of them in turn.

"It's bee-yoo-tee-ful," Pearl Davis said admiringly. She wore a star-spangled baseball cap; some 70 years ago, she was a flight nurse.

"Thank you for your service," Johnson said.

"What do you want us to do with these?" Davis replied, holding the coin out to her and smiling sweetly.

"Because of you, we can have a safe nation," Johnson told Charles Fox, sitting beside Davis.

"Thank you," he said softly. His hands shook a little as he held the coin. "I'm proud to do it. And I'd do it again."

Billy Matthews, the 84-year-old vet who said he hadn't thought about the war in years, came from Longview, Texas. He spent four years in Japan and Korea in the Army Air Corps. "I was lucky," he said. "The group I was with all got wiped out." After the war ended, he became a civilian trader. "I made life over in the far East and spent 12 years in Japan. It's quite a nice place."

Matthews has spent 28 months in the VA Hospital, recovering from huge, fast-growing tumors on his forehead that have blinded him in his left eye and forced his right eye closed. When the congresswoman handed him his coin and certificate, he reached out "into a white fog" to take them; he ran his thumb over the raised face of the coin, trying to make out the image.

"World War II -- if you were of age, you were in the service," he said. "We were very fortunate to win that war. We've been fighting ever since, and we haven't won a decent war. Every one was a terrible mistake. We've gained nothing."

He ran his fingers over the coin again, smiled a little, and changed the subject. "I'm grateful for the VA," he said. As for cancer, well, "it beats not breathing. When you're about to hit 84, that's fine and dandy."

Al Garrett, a soft-spoken 90-year-old beside him, spoke up suddenly, He too was in the Air Corps. He went in in 1941 and spent three years in Waco and Seattle "before the Japanese quit," he said.

"I knew somebody was coming today," he said, as the congresswoman and her staff packed up and left. Nurses started to wheel their patients out of the room, off to doctor's appointments and the evening's bingo game, a few hours away.

"I'm happy to see one of these," he said, clutching his coin. "I'm proud."

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20 comments
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NewsDog
NewsDog

EBJ in a room full of white people... is her district being redrawn?

NewsDog
NewsDog

Or did she have her staff along to help collect the absentee ballots early?

Glenn
Glenn

Good story, Anna.

Heywood U Buzzoff
Heywood U Buzzoff

EBJ passing out coins?  Wonder how many went to her grand nephews and the kids of her staffers? 

RTGolden
RTGolden

I'm not a a big EBJ fan either, but this isn't the forum to bring up all the negative issues.  I commend her for taking the time to meet with these vets, to let them know that though they are old, and their deed done long ago, they will not be forgotten.

Good Job EBJ.

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Hey now, stop bringing up dirt. Just because she got off scot free on that doesn't mean she would ever do it again or that she is not ethical anymore.

Matt Murrah
Matt Murrah

""What do you want us to do with these?" Davis replied, holding the coin out to her and smiling sweetly." 

Still all these years later, willing/asking to serve.  What an example!  What a heritage!

Krflewellen
Krflewellen

I had a 94 year old uncle that fought in WWII. He just passed a month ago. Prior to his passing, I spent a significant amount of time at the VA hospital talking to the Veterans. One thing that I found they all had in common, was a deep love for this country, and an unbelievable since of pride for their personal contributions.

To many of them, their service was the crowning moment of life. To have someone to just sit and express interest in their experience, means so much. Congresswoman EBJ has been a champion for our Veterans. I am so glad that she stopped for a moment and recognized their efforts.

I know that most of our elected officials have a cause that they fight for, I'm glad to know that of all the things that she does for our district, being a Champion for our Veterans (not limited to local Veterans), is high on the list.

Chris Danger
Chris Danger

While some of her other shenanagans have been not so stellar, I respect her taking the time to honor vets. As the grandson of a WW2 vet, the nephew of Vietnam vet and the cousin of a currently enlisted man stationed on the east coast,I have the upmost respect for the armed services a what they do, both in time of conflict and peace..God Bless Them All!

TraneM
TraneM

I always appreciate Vets being recognized, but if it's from the heart and not a photo lol, why is an entourage of staffers needed?

Krflewellen
Krflewellen

@TraneM, An entourage of staff is needed because of her office. No matter what side of the isle you are on, or what you represent, when you are in public service you are always vulnerable. Let's not forget just over a year ago, one of her colleagues, Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford suffered a horrible tragedy doing what seemed to be a very harmless task. I don't mean to suggest anything fowl of our Veterans, Im simply responding to your question as to the need of an entourage.

I am proud of her efforts for our Veterans. I'm sure it made them feel good to be remembered in such a way. Her concern for Veterans catapulted her into public services, and she still is fighting on their behalf.

Kudos to someone for having something that you will always defend. I salute the Veterans as well.

Sinclair
Sinclair

As a disabled veteran of the war in Iraq, I appreciate Johnson's efforts on our behalf. I remember that she was one of the few members of Congress who actually stood up and said that we were being sold a bill of goods by the Bush administration when we were considering going to war. I had an opportunity to meet her in Iraq when she visited and I will always value her sincere commitment to our welfare.

LaurieH
LaurieH

What individual at the observer has given anything to our veterans? Yet you question the motives of an individual who served as a nurse at the VA and someone who has always voted to support our veterans, be it educational opportunities, improved psychiatric care, or just continuing the benefits they were promised when they served our country. Shame on the Observer!

TheRealDirtyP1
TheRealDirtyP1

Wait what? Why are you getting on the Observer? They published the story and it wasn't critical of her.

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

My thoughts exactly.  Sinclair didn't read the entire article or misinterpreted it - really misinterpreted it!

Pgroveson
Pgroveson

Congresswoman Johnson spent sixteen years of her life prior to elected life as Chief Psychiatric Nurse at the VA. Her service and commitment to our veterans is more than most of us will ever experience. I am so proud that we have a public servant who puts people first.

Wylie H.
Wylie H.

That's so EBJ, using elderly vets as props, arriving late with a bunch of handlers, etc. A truly awful Congressional representative, in every possible sense.

Daily Reader
Daily Reader

 And what did you do for the Vets this week?

Ed D.
Ed D.

I, um... is it dusty in here because my eyes are really watery right now.

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