Vera Moore gets emotional when she recalls the special ceremony at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital to honor her longtime companion, Daniel Rhoads.
It was just a few days after Veterans Day in November, and the hospital had just started its Final Salute protocol, a new program to honor veterans.
Rhoads, 88, who served in the Army from 1944 to 1945, died in the Arlington Memorial hospice unit. Afterward, with Moore’s permission, a solemn volunteer honor guard of hospital employees draped Rhoads’ body in an U.S. flag. Then they escorted the gurney that carried him to a hearse waiting at the hospital’s front entrance.
“They announced it, and when we walked down the corridor, people were standing — the staff, visitors at the hospital, the volunteers. They were standing shoulder to shoulder in the corridor and they had their hand on their hearts,” Moore said tearfully. “That just means so much to me because they were showing their respect for his life and the fact that he served in the armed forces.”
The Final Salute protocol was the work of a hospital committee that began meeting in early 2015. Arlington Memorial chaplain Jim Dorsey, an organizer, said he had long wanted to find a special way to recognize veterans and their families at the hospital. He and others, including hospital security officer Kevin Gerken, designed and implemented the Final Salute.
Gerken recently retired from an Army career of more than 30 years. So he was a good fit to help guide the committee’s work.
“This is not just an honor to the veteran; it’s also an honor to their family. Because when an individual is serving and they’re married, their family is also serving,” Gerken said. “Whether they’re stationed with them or they are separated from them, the family stills serves because they’re supporting their loved one.”
As of Thursday, the hospital has performed the Final Salute ceremony eight times. It is a simple but meaningful effort.
Dorsey, who has been chaplain at Arlington Memorial for 18 years, said the next of kin of a veteran who is likely to die in the hospital are approached about the Final Salute. Participation is voluntary. If family members agree, then specially trained hospital staff are called to the patient’s room after the patient dies to participate in the flag draping. They then escort the body and the family to the hospital atrium.
When the group reaches the funeral home vehicle, the honor guard members ceremoniously fold the flag and present it to the family with their heartfelt thanks for the veteran’s service. Dorsey said employees who can leave their post line the atrium to pay their respects as the procession passes, often with a salute or a hand over their hearts.
“It’s a very emotional experience. It just conjures up a lot of emotions, especially with employees or others who have had family members who have died as veterans,” Dorsey said. “When you see this, you can’t help but be moved.”
Arlington Memorial is not the only North Texas hospital to put a priority on honoring veterans. Today.com recently reported on a gathering of more than 100 veterans Dec. 21 to honor Army veteran Matthew Whalen, who died at Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth. A Facebook video shows a military honor guard accompanying a gurney carrying Whalen through hospital hallways on the way to an organ donation procedure.
Moore, who lives in Arlington, said she’s glad that Arlington Memorial is giving veterans a Final Salute. She thinks other hospitals should consider the idea.
“I would love to see more hospitals do this. I don’t think we recognize our servicemen enough, and I don’t think they get the credit they should get for the service they do,” she said. “I think that definitely would be a way to give them recognition and show respect for what they did for their country.”