07
November
2023
|
11:00 AM
America/Denver

Veteran’s remarkable service in three wars honored by Lutheran Hospice

Bill O'Neill

In the heart of every veteran lies a story, and for 98-year-old Bill O'Neill, that story spans three wars over 25 years.  

Bill proudly served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. He enlisted in the Aviation Cadet Program when he was still in high school and after graduation, he joined the Air Force. He graduated as a second lieutenant pilot in March 1945 and retired after World War II.  

When the Korean War started in 1945, he reentered the service. He flew 20 types of aircraft during his 25 years in the service and while in Korea, he flew 52 combat attack missions. He also flew countless combat support missions in and out of Korea and Vietnam. After he was released from active duty, he joined the Reserves and retired in 1968. 

“I knew I wanted to be a pilot the day I saw my first airplane,” said Bill. “I flew in the military for 25 years and when I retired, I bought a plane and my wife and I spent the next 25 years flying around the United States and Canada.” 

Bill O'Neill and Larry Sturgeon

Bill was diagnosed with lung cancer and has been under the care of Lutheran Hospice for the past month. On October 30, his Hospice care team, volunteers, and family and friends joined Bill and his family at their home for a special pinning ceremony. They thanked him for his service and gifted him with a quilt, certificate, poem and resources to help veterans who are in hospice. 

Lutheran Hospice is part of an organization called We Honor Veterans that focuses on end-of-life care for the brave men and women who have served our country.  

Larry Sturgeon, a Vietnam War veteran and volunteer at Lutheran Hospice, presented Bill with a piece of an American flag, Vietnam veterans' beads and a We Honor Veterans pin. Only Vietnam veterans are allowed to make the beads and pin another Vietnam vet.  

Lutheran Hospice is steadfastly dedicated to serving veterans and they perform these pinning ceremonies weekly. 

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“The pinning ceremonies are so special, especially to the men and women who served during the Vietnam era,” said Ginger Cooley, Lutheran Hospice liaison. “Most were never welcomed home, and this is a tribute to honor them and say, ‘Welcome Home’. The veteran no longer feels forgotten, stories are told, and sometimes for the first time, healing happens, and memories are made that will last forever.” 

Larry said, “Carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten,” as he handed the piece of the flag to Bill. After, he saluted him and said, “Welcome home,” which brought Bill to tears. 

“Bill was one of the brave men and women who said yes when our country asked them to serve,” said Larry. “I’m honored to be here today to let him know how much his service means to us.” 

“Veterans Day is about recognizing my country and how hard we fought to maintain our democracy,” Bill said. “It’s a time to pay homage to every American who served in the military. I have great respect for our country and the flag, and I appreciated every minute I spent in the service. It was my absolute pleasure to serve my country.”