Saturday, May 11, 2002

Serving those who served

Veteran homes open in 2 spots

By Roger Alford
The Associated Press

        A decorated combat nurse held captive during World War II is one of the first residents of the newly opened Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center, a nursing home for elderly soldiers in Hazard.

        Col. Ruby Bradley, one of the nation's most decorated female veterans, was admitted about a week ago to the $15.9 million center.

        So far, 30 veterans have moved in, but that number will increase to 120 , said Les Beavers, a retired Army general serving as commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs.

        The Hazard nursing home is one of two that opened this spring for elderly veterans in Kentucky. The other one, in Hanson in western Kentucky, also will house 120 veterans. Already, the state had a 300-bed facility at Wilmore in central Kentucky.

        “The whole objective is to give veterans dignity and treat them with compassion in the last days of their lives as a payback for their service to our country,” Mr. Beavers said. “These are real patriots, and it's our duty to take care of them.”

        Most of the people admitted so far have been WWII veterans, and all, like Col. Bradley, have served in combat situations, said Michael Gayheart, the center's administrator.

        The 93-year-old Col. Bradley said she will never forget the night a U.S. Army tank crashed the gates of the Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Philippines, freeing her after three years of captivity. Col. Bradley said nothing has ever matched the excitement she felt in the moment that the tank cleared the wooden rubble and she saw troops following on foot.

        Roxy Combs, a registered nurse at the veterans home, said she feels privileged to get to care for Col. Bradley and the other veterans.

        “You're getting to take care of people who have been on the line for our nation,” she said. “It's very rewarding.”

        Mr. Beavers said leaders wanted to spread the centers across the state so veterans could be close to their families. “It's an honor to do this for them, because they've earned this through their deeds,” he said.

        Mr. Gayheart said employees and visitors acknowledge that.

        “It's a different feeling when you walk into our facility,” he said. “We have a pure sense of dedication and overall commitment to give these veterans the quality of care they so much deserve.”


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