7 Veterans Stories That Touched Our Hearts in 2019
George H.W. Bush's Service Dog Sully Receives Public Service Award for Bringing Love and Joy
Former President George H.W. Bush’s "extraordinary" service dog, Sully, will be honored with a 2019 ASPCA Humane Award on Nov. 14. The beloved yellow Labrador, who was trained by America’s VetDogs and remained by Bush’s side from June 2018 through the former president's death in November 2018, earned the Public Service Award, "which is given to an outstanding animal or a public service officer who has made a heroic effort to save an animal’s life in the past year or has demonstrated a commitment to his or her career," according to the ASPCA.
Sully was chosen for "bringing not just assistance but love and joy to the former president in the last months of his life." While he only served Bush for a few months, the pair quickly formed a deep bond that has extended beyond Bush’s life, as immortalized in a photo of the loyal Lab guarding Bush’s coffin after his funeral.
The highly trained service dog was also recognized for his continued help to veterans since Bush’s death, as he now works to comfort them and assist with rehabilitation center sessions at Walter Reed National Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Next up for Sully: He's getting his own bronze statue in the east wing of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas.
Navy SEAL Starts a Nonprofit to Protect Police and Military Dogs: 'I Have a Debt to Pay to Them'
James Hatch will never forget the night a decade ago in Afghanistan. The Navy SEAL was on a special mission to rescue Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl from the Taliban with the unit's service dog when a militant fatally shot the dog in the head while another shot Hatch in his right femur, resulting in a career-ending 18 surgeries in two years. "In my mind I had failed," says Hatch, 52, "and I got that dog who I loved killed."
Hatch became depressed, abused alcohol and in 2010 was close to attempting suicide when he was saved by the same men who saved him from bleeding to death after the firefight. Says Hatch: "They forced me to get help."
Hatch discovered relief with cognitive behavioral therapy. He also started the nonprofit Spike's K9 Fund in October 2014, providing 925 police and military dogs with medical aid and protective gear. These dogs, Hatch says, are oftentimes put in harm's way and suffer both psychologically and physically: "I feel as though I have a debt to pay to them. That's my No. 1 mission."
In the fall, Hatch started another mission: classes at Yale University as a freshman with his therapy dog, Mina, a Dutch shepherd.
"These kids are amazing and I tell them that," says Hatch, who studies Shakespeare and the classics. "I have quite a bit of hope now about our future."
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
Reporting by Diane Herbst
Pregnant Army Medic Saves Man's Life After Losing Consciousness at Restaurant: 'I Feel Blessed'
Just before bringing a new life into the world, Emily Anderson was able to save a stranger’s. At seven and a half months pregnant in February, Anderson, an Army National Guard medic whose passion for emergency medicine began when she was deployed to Iraq, was out to dinner to celebrate her grandfather’s 88th birthday in Lynchburg, Virginia.
At the restaurant, “another gentleman who was there with his family began having difficulty breathing,” Anderson, 28, told PEOPLE. Despite being extremely pregnant, Anderson took charge when no one else stepped in. “I didn't feel a pulse and I started doing compressions," she said. "After two cycles he regained consciousness. It was a blessing."
The experience reminded her why she does what she does — and why she plans to apply to the Army’s physician assistant program in 2021, after she finishes studying at Lynchburg University. "There were times throughout my career where I didn't know if this is what I'm supposed to be doing with my life," she said. "It comes with a lot of emotional stress, but after that night, it was just like I'm where I need to be. I'm doing what I need to do and I feel blessed."
Reporting by Caitlin Keating
WWII Vet Asks for 100 Cards to Celebrate 100th Birthday — a Request Linked to His Late Wife
In celebration of his 100th birthday on Oct. 7, World War II veteran James South had a simple request for the public: to receive 100 birthday cards.
South’s assisted living home, Brookdale Watauga in Texas, helped to spread the word by sharing a photo of James holding up a sign with his request.
“Hello! My name is James South and I am a proud WWII veteran!" the sign read. "I will be turning 100 on October 7th, 2019. I would like to receive 100 birthday cards. Please mail to: 5800 North Park Dr., Watauga, TX 76148. Thank you!”
Letters hold a special significance for James, as his girlfriend, Sophie, wrote him one every day while he was at war, he told local ABC affiliate WFAA. When he returned home, Sophie became his wife, and they were married for 55 years before her death in 2001.
“It would give me a feeling that I am recognized for what I do, what I am,” he said of receiving the cards. “And I would cherish it forever.”
James got his birthday wish — tenfold. In a heart-warming photo shared on the Brookdale Watauga Facebook page, James was seen grinning over thousands of letters.
Reporting by Rachel DeSantis
Veteran Marries Girlfriend Just Hours Before Dying from Rare Liver Cancer
Five hours before dying from his battle with cancer, 20-year-old veteran Tristan Laue was able to cross one major thing off his bucket list: marrying his girlfriend, now Tianna Laue.
Tristan joined the U.S. Army in July 2016 and was medically discharged two years later after learning he had a rare form of liver cancer, according to Army Times. Intent on living life to the fullest, Tristan enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa while growing closer to Tianna. But as his health continued to deteriorate, the former soldier realized that the long future they hoped for would be cut short by his disease — and he wanted their brief love to shine as brightly as possible with the time he had left. On Easter Sunday, he proposed.
"He’s the love of my life," Tianna told KKWL. "My mom said, 'Some people don’t get what you two had in the amount of time … They’ll be together for years and still not have the same connection that you guys did.'"
The couple’s relatives and community pulled together a ceremony in the family’s backyard just 48 hours after Tristan proposed, and the pair said "I do" on April 27. He was laid to rest one week later at Crosspoint Church in Waverly, Iowa.
World War II Veteran, 96, Is Crossing the Country on Foot Again and Plans to Finish in 5 Years
World War II veteran Ernie Andrus is advancing his life’s journey one step at a time. The 96-year-old set off in March on his second coast-to-coast adventure, having previously run over 2,631 miles — from California’s Pacific Ocean to Georgia’s Atlantic — in two years and 10 months to celebrate his 90th birthday, CNN reported. Now, Andrus is on the move once again, this time making the journey in reverse.
“I could never turn down the chance for an adventure,” he told the outlet.
The war hero predicts the journey will take him five years, as he hopes to run 13 miles each week. His incredible feat is also a message to the U.S. Navy, in which he served during World War II. “If I make it all the way, I’ll be about 100 years old,” he told CNN. “And if a 100-year-old man can run coast to coast, the Navy can give us some help.”
Andrus hopes to once again raise money to sail a restored WWII tanker back to Normandy for a D-Day memorial. The fund earned over $33,000 during his last trip, but with a cost of over a million, he’s determined to keep moving forwards.
Army Veteran Dies with No Family — But a Thousand People Attend Funeral After Obituary Goes Viral
On Oct. 1, thousands of people drove for hours to attend the funeral of Army veteran Edward K. Pearson, whom they had never met. Pearson, a Naples, Florida resident, died at age 80 on Aug. 31 in a local hospice facility.
The facility reached out to Legacy Options Funeral and Cremation Services, hoping they could contact Pearson’s family members, but Legacy family services counselor Jeffrey Nieves told PEOPLE they were unable to find anyone. “We had had him in our care for a month and had made every due diligence call to contact family and nobody came forward,” he said.
Pearson’s obituary was then published in the Naples Daily News, noting that all were welcome to attend his funeral at Sarasota National Cemetery, as he had no immediate family. Few people were expected to attend — until the obituary went viral, and hundreds began calling Legacy saying they’d be there.
According to CNN, over 1,000 people came to show their respects for the veteran, who served in the Army from February 1962 to 1964, when he was honorably discharged, and was laid to rest with full military honors.
Reporting by Rachel DeSantis