Sunday, July 4, 2010


V.A. CENTER FOR THE AGING.... Caring for our vets.

The Spark Matsunaga V.A. Center for the Aging is located on the grounds of Tripler Army Medical Center and is in a building that is physically detached from the main V.A. Center and is on the Ewa side of the main building. It is a geriatric center with 60 beds for inpatient care. Additionally, the Center also services veterans who need rehabilitation physical therapy and psychological treatment as outpatients.

I first began entertaining there in late 2002 or early 2003. I wasn't very good, having only learned to play the piano about 18 months earlier. I was self-taught to boot. But, the patients/residents were forgiving.

These are folks who are combat-tested, tough, crusty and in spite of their broken bodies, minds or spirits, stand tall in defending their dignity. Many went through the period during the Viet Nam era where they were ordered not to wear their uniforms off base. Civilians would yell obscenities and sometimes threw human waste on soldiers in uniforms. If they defended themselves, they faced court martial or at the very least, Article 15.

They watched me and tested me to see if I was volunteering just to feed my ego. Some would run their wheelchair up against my keyboard just to see how I would react. They were, and continue to be warriors. Warriors don't ask for help. They are trained to make do and improvise.

I tried to guess as to why I was being treated so rudely. First, of course, was the possibility that I was plain bad as a musician. Second, was that they didn't trust me and third, was that their medication caused a change in their personality that made them mean-spirited. Of course, I chose the third.

The truth is that they likely didn't want me there performing if I did so because I felt pity for them. When they realized that I was coming every Monday morning, rain or shine, they began to trust that I was there because I enjoyed their company. Or, I suspect that they just resigned themselves to accept me because I wasn't going away.

Each had his own song that he wanted to hear. One gunny from Texas was the mildest and kindest individual you could meet. If I ended my program, however, without singing his song, "Your Cheating Heart", he would go into a tirade and he would shout the harshest profanities only a marine gunny would know. Gunny was always the first person in the room when I arrived, reading his book (he went through a book a day sometimes), and waited patiently for his song.

Every year, the Center holds a memorial ceremony for those who passed away during the previous 12 months. I've had the privileged of providing 30 minutes of pre-ceremony music for the past 3-4 years. I did mostly patriotic and gospel music.

In years past, I've performed in a gazebo which is about 30 feet away from the audience, who were seated in the courtyard under a tent. The courtyard overlooked the ocean, airport and the Sand Island Lagoon. I had no opportunity to interact with the audience while performing.

On June 25, they held the ceremony indoors because of potential inclement weather. The audience was about 5 feet from my keyboard. For the first time, I could see and hear the tears and sobs as I went through my songs. America, Battle hymn, God Bless the USA, America the Beautiful and Amazing Grace were particularly emotional for family members. A couple of veterans had to leave the room because they didn't want anyone to see them cry. They truly love this country. For those who wonder why I'm there every Monday morning, it is because I get to touch their souls like this.

For a slide show of the event:

The ceremony was a typical military one, with honor guards doing a slow salute as each of the 100+ names are called followed by a ringing of a bell by Cecil Meadows, a retired veteran. Family members placed a flag at the altar when their deceased's name was called. Opening and closing Hawaiian chants were done by Liane Davidson, colors were posted and Gerry Vincent sang the National Anthem and Hawai'i Pono'i. A Navy bugler played Taps.

More about the facility:

For those who want to help by volunteering:

Some people don't have the time to volunteer but want to help. If that's your situation, the V.A. accepts monetary donations. Or, do both as I do.

To all our veterans, I salute you on this 4th of July.

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