In the months leading up to my father's passing two years ago around this time, he flashed during one visit on a memory from 66 years earlier that would define him. An Army surgeon-in-training in his mid-20s at New Jersey's Fort Dix, the moment would haunt him until the end of his days, almost three-quarters of a century later, at age 91.
A patient, a gravely injured fellow soldier, went into distress. It was the middle of the night, and my dad, fresh out of medical school, felt out of his league to deal with it. Problem was, it was the middle of the night. He was on call, and he was the only one there to deal with it, and he did.
What he might have been able to do, what he could have and would have done differently if he knew then what he would go on to learn, and what no one would have had the power to do in that moment--irrespective of their knowledge, experience, and available assistance--would swirl around in his mind. It preoccupied him through his 40-plus years as a practicing surgeon, and well after that. These questions rattled, rumbled, and would recur numerous times in his work at Fort Dix, among soldiers, whose work and days and nights by nature often tread a razor-thin line between mere duty and service and the ultimate sacrifice.
It may or may not have been the source of motivation for him--well after he retired as a surgeon practicing medicine--to apply and go to work as a medical inspector in the medical services division of the U.S. Veterans Health Administration for several years leading up to his 2nd, and not yet final, retirement.
The treatment data, the physical, mental, and psychic toll, the outcomes, the policy, the investment in medical innovation, the hospital practices, the health of the VA's medical infrastructure all became fixations for a mind, heart, and body fanatically focused on the sacrifices and service--both barely decipherable and hugely important--of men and women of the U.S. Armed Services. As a doctor, patient himself in the VA system, and a medical inspector, he committed to trying to improve the VHA's quality and service to the nine million veteran patients who currently depend on its systems, hospitals, and staff.
He was a man of unapologetic obsessions--particularly with his own performance as a physician and the duty of all of us as Americans to protect, heal, cherish, and support those men and women who protect and serve us, our freedom, our values.
Home builders--men and women--and their manufacturer, lender, building trade, and land-developer partners of all sizes seem to find motivation in a similar epiphany. They may be helpless to protect a serviceman or woman entirely, but one way or another, they step up and try. They're not daunted by what could have, or would have been different, but rather they're moved to act, to honor, to heal, and to nurture new hope for families that war and its ravages have harmed. The home building community's longstanding and ongoing commitment to all veterans is a real-world sign of resilience and compassion at work.
Operation Coming Home, Built to Honor, Operation Homefront, Operation Finally Home, Building Homes for Heroes, Gary Sinise's R.I.S.E. Foundation, HomeAid's Homes for Our Veterans, and Habitat for Humanity's Veterans Build programs, to name a few of the more well-known programs, quite often team up builders and supervisors and trades workers who have served in America's armed services on projects developed specifically for veterans who've made sacrifices beyond the call. One Home Builders Institute program focuses exclusively on giving veterans skills and a direction in a building trade that can provide a foundation for living a purpose-filled, financially rewarding life.
To those people who've found a career in building after serving to protect our nation's safety, health, and ability to prosper through service in one of the armed forces, and to their families--who live, breathe, eat, sleep, and pray in the same equation of sacrifice for our free and gifted society--we express our deep-felt gratitude.
We treasure every moment the privileges we enjoy, the comforts we can take, and the responsibility we feel to serve and support and protect you as you do us. So, thank you.