EveryStep Honors Veterans: Meet Volunteer Gary O'Daniels

Gary O’Daniels graduated from college and had been teaching for four years when he was drafted into service in the Vietnam War. “At that time, the draft age was 18 to 26. I was in the process of changing schools and technically not employed by the new school when I was drafted. I was four months shy of 26 years old.”

Gary went through basic training and combat engineer Advanced Individual Training Army at Fort Leonard Wood in 1968 and arrived in Vietnam in October. He served as a combat engineer with the 8th Engineer Battalion and was attached to the First Cavalry Division until January of 1970, when he returned home to Iowa.

“I was stationed about 45 miles northwest of Saigon and our compound was located right on the perimeter, surrounded by barbed wire. We had fairly regular rocket attacks from the Vietnamese. I don’t think anyone can be prepared for that kind of experience,” says Gary.

In January of 1970, Gary returned to Iowa and got married, raising two children and making his life in Creston. He found out about volunteer opportunities with EveryStep through the local VFW. “I went with another member a couple of times to see what the [EveryStep’s Veteran to Veteran program] was like,” says Gary. “I decided I’d like to continue, so I went through the training and have been volunteering for a little over a year.”

Among his duties as a volunteer, Gary attends veteran “pinning” ceremonies hosted by EveryStep Hospice for patients who have served our country.  Gary says he knows the events are important to those being honored, and says the ceremonies mean a great deal to him, too.

“It’s a sobering experience to know that you’re going to be doing something, probably for the last time, for the veterans — just one last recognition that a veteran, along with their family, can receive. I guess it’s just the satisfaction that I’ve been able to present another honor to them for the service they’ve done. One last thing for them.”

Gary will be taking part in three different programs on Veterans Day and says the best way you can honor a veteran is by taking time to thank them.

Veterans Day is a time to pay respect to those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. EveryStep offers its appreciation to all who have served in the military, especially EveryStep’s staff, volunteers, clients and patients.

EveryStep is a nonprofit health care organization and a Level 4 partner in the nationally recognized We Honor Veterans initiative. Through its hospice program, EveryStep offers several specialized services for veterans. EveryStep’s Veteran-to-Veteran program is a special service pairing veterans who are volunteers with hospice patients who have served our country. A specialized Veteran-to-Veteran volunteer can provide companionship while talking, reading and sitting with patients. Veterans bring a unique skill set to help patients find peace at the end of life.

EveryStep’s veteran pinning ceremonies provide honor, dignity and recognition to veterans at the end of their lives. Family members and friends are often on hand with EveryStep staff and volunteers during the celebratory events, which include the Pledge of Allegiance, the awarding of a veteran service flag pin, the singing of “God Bless America,” a reading of "What is a Veteran," and the presentation of a certificate of recognition.

If you are a veteran interested in volunteering your time to visit hospice patients, learn more or complete a volunteer application at everystep.org/volunteer. If you or someone you know needs care or support, complete the confidential "Find Care" form at www.everystep.org/find-care. The form sends a message to EveryStep staff who then follow up with a phone call. It's a great way to start a conversation and get answers with no cost or commitment. EveryStep can connect the individual to its own programs and services that may be helpful, as well as services offered by other organizations and providers in the community.