A retired American Air Force engineer who served in Vietnam began having delusions that he needed to return to war as a result of his deteriorating dementia, so in a heart-warming gesture, a veteran from his old squadron came to relieve him of his duty.
84-year-old Lawrence is a 100 per cent Native American (half Chippewa and half Standing rock Sioux) who served in the United States Air Force from 1954 to 1974, including three one year deployments in Vietnam.
As Lawrence has grown older, his mental health has declined. Now unable to function on his own in everyday life, his family ‘very painstakingly’ transitioned him into assisted living.
Since breaking his hip two years ago and struggling to recover as well as no longer trusting his children or wife due to his condition, the war veteran was appointed a guardian by the State of Washington to see his was being treated well in his facility as he would have ‘outbursts’ when his family were present.
Lawrence’s youngest daughter Julia and her husband Kenny have been looking after him, anonymously dropping his favourite food to the care home and leaving due to his distrust.
Speaking to UNILAD, Lawrence’s son-in-law Kenny Dunn, 35, explained:
About six weeks ago, his memory and his conversations about his past became very erratic. Some memories would be complete nonsense and some would be clear as if they were yesterday.
But through the ups and downs the one thing that he has clung to is that he is worried that the Air Force wants to send him back to Vietnam. He talks often and in great detail about the men he served with and believes that he spoke with them only yesterday.
He is one of the toughest men I’ve ever known and none of us have ever known him to cry but he weeps when he brings up his duty to return.
Last Wednesday after a visit with him, my wife came home and broke down because despite our best efforts we could not convince him that he was retired and he didn’t need to go back. I posed to my wife that maybe we could get a military officer to come to him in uniform and basically relieve him of his responsibility.
My wife said that sounded like a good idea and asked me to look into it. In five minutes I had a short paragraph typed up and posted it to Facebook in a closed community group here in our hometown of Vancouver, WA.
Within a few hours I received over a hundred offers of active duty and retired enlisted and officers volunteering to help. By the next morning we had arranged for a retired Lt. Col. to come visit him the following day. As luck would have it, the Lt. Col. had retired from the same civil engineering squadron in July that my father in law served in during Vietnam.
The Lieutenant who came to visit Lawrence was described as ‘an absolute gentleman’ and ‘class act’.
When Lt. Col. entered Lawrence’s room in his full uniform, he explained that he was in direct connection with Lawrence’s unit which immediately put him at ease.
Lawrence was then presented with an official looking certificate of appreciation from the Air Force with his retirement date on, along with a civil engineering badge.
Kenny told UNILAD:
We posted this story on social media in the hopes that it would be uplifting to families in similar situations and I put it on a Veteran’s page on Reddit but we had no idea it would get this big. What we want to convey to people if they are interested in this story is just how special the brotherhood of veterans is.
That a complete stranger came to us when we needed him the most and freely gave to my father-in-law compassion, hope, honor, and dignity.
As far as dementia goes we couldn’t begin to give advice to people in our situation. Just remember to treat your loved ones the way you would want to be treated.
Kenny recommended the podcast How Dementia Works From Stuff You Should Know as being ‘very informative and on a level that anyone can understand’.
The family took plenty of photos of the touching meeting so that when Lawrence’s delusions of being deployed back to Vietnam return.
Being one of the ‘toughest men’ Kenny knows, it is a shock to see Lawrence break down in tears when he speaks of returning to Vietnam.
850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, and this is expected to rise to one million by 2025.