By Elizabeth Blackburn
WASHINGTON – James Malone and his stepmom, Sheri, looked like any other first-time tourists in Washington last week as they went from monument to monument, posing and taking photos.
But the Malones were doing more than making memories – they were also fulfilling a loved one’s last wish.
The Chandler family was in Washington with Dreams for Veterans, an organization under the Dream Foundation that grants wishes to terminally ill veterans like Jim Malone, the late father and husband to James and Sheri.
A Navy veteran who was in active duty from 1977 to 1981, and in the Navy Reserve from 1982 to 1987, Jim Malone was diagnosed in September 2013 with stage-four esophageal cancer. His doctor and social worker at the time suggested that he fill out an application to Dreams for Veterans.
Jim’s dream was to take his family to Washington, D.C.
“He really just wanted to share his love of the country and why it was always so important to him,” Sheri said of the trip. She said her husband’s love of country “is personified in D.C, and that is why D.C. was so special to him.”
Jim didn’t think his wish would be considered, but told Sheri that if she wanted to “waste her time” she was welcome to fill out the application. She did, and Dreams for Veterans granted Jim’s wish in June 2015.
Sheri said Jim felt undeserving, because he had never served in combat, but being granted his wish left him feeling overwhelmed and grateful.
James said the wish-granting party at a Carl’s Jr. – which partners with Dreams for Veterans on the program – allowed him to “see my hero smile one last time.” Jim Malone died later that month, on the morning the family was scheduled to travel to Washington.
Four months later James and Sheri were invited to a Washington event at which other families and veterans would be talking about their wishes. The Malones decided to go.
At the Capitol Hill event Thursday, James Malone talked about his dad as his “hero.” He had the crowd laughing with his father’s story about trying to re-enlist after 9/11, when Jim Malone said “they told me when they need a 40-year-old fat pool guy, they’ll call me.”
Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa, gave the family a flag that flew over the Capitol in Jim Malone’s honor.
“This flag was flown for the Malone family in honor of James Malone to honor the life of U.S. Navy veteran James Malone. Your deep love of the country will never be forgotten,” Salmon said as he presented the flag. “Thank you for your patriotism, selflessness and brave service to your country.”
Sheri said that in addition to the trip, Jim’s other wish was to see his son graduate from high school.
He was there to see James graduate from Chandler High School this spring and to learn James had received a full scholarship to attend Arizona State University, where he is now in his first semester studying business.
The trip to Washington included a meeting with Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, and a tour of the Capitol in addition to stops at monuments along the National Mall.
“It’s felt like Jim’s been with us today,” Sheri said. “It was a last gift from him.”
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Yesterday morning we headed to the Reserve Officers Association on Capitol Hill for the public launch of Dreams for Veterans.
Dreams for Veterans serves those who have served by giving back to terminally ill veterans and their families through the fulfillment of a final dream. We snapped the Kellogg Organization’s Terry Wall with Veterans History Project’s Karen Lloyd and Elizabeth Slaught, a supporter for 20 years and wife of the board president. The Veterans History Project is a unique program with the Library of Congress to collect veterans’ stories from all over the country.
Guests included those who have received dreams from the Dreams for Veterans program and their families. Here, Dream Foundation Executive Director Kisa Heyer with Schmidt family members Will, Shawna, Wendy and Cary. Guests enjoyed a continental breakfast before the program.
Dreams for Veterans has served the dreams of more than 600 terminally ill adults, with hopes to expand its outreach in the coming years. Here, Eric Taylor of Sen. John McCain’s office joins Dreamer family James and Sheri Malone from Phoenix, with Dreams for Veterans Advisory Committee member Kelsey Martin. (Read more)
Today, I had the honor of attending and reading a letter from the First Lady during the public launch of Dreams For Veterans. This organization fulfills dreams for U.S. military veterans with a life expectancy of 12 months or less. The program honors their lives, meets their needs, and reunites their families to bring closure to their end-of-life journey. Many dreams fulfilled through the Dreams for Veterans program include tailored elements intended to recognize these individuals and their service. For veteran dream recipients, dreams come in many shapes and sizes, from receiving daily comfort items to helping facilitate family reunions.
It was such an experience to meet with veterans who attended the launch today, many of whom have had dreams fulfilled by Dreams for Veterans. For me, the story of veterans, Ethel, 94 and her husband Carl, 92, really hit home for me. The couple met while Ethel was serving as a nurse during World War II. Recently, Ethel’s terminal lymphoma had created a financial and emotional burden; but, she and Carl tried to remain active. Ethel’s dream was to attend the monthly pancake breakfast at the local American Legion post with Carl. They received a hero’s welcome that special morning, and spent valuable time together connecting with other veterans.
Ethel’s story is just one more than 100 dreams fulfilled by Dreams for Veterans, the first national program specifically serving and honoring veterans – from World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan – at the end of life by fulfilling their final dream. In addition to giving dream recipients and their families the opportunity to make the most of the time they have left, a final dream also improves their end of life care by addressing the emotional and psychological needs of terminally ill veterans and those of their loved ones and caretakers.
Many veteran Dreamers are eager to reconcile memories and acknowledge their former service. They come to Dreams for Veterans with service-centric dreams ranging from taking historical tours of battleships or enjoying camaraderie and a meal at the American Legion to visiting our nation’s capital, memorials or having their stories of military service shared and preserved with their families. No matter the dream, at the heart of each one is its ability to ignite hope, anticipation and joy in the lives of those who need it most. Individuals and families, hospice partners, hospitals, doctors, social workers and veterans’ organizations share the program with veterans. By providing a resource to an extended community, a dream has the ability to not just serve the recipient, but all those involved in the experience.
We salute Dreams for Veterans as they publicly launch this program on September 17 in Washington, D.C., and continue to fulfill the dreams of those who so bravely and selflessly served our country.
Colonel Nicole Malachowski, USAF, is the Executive Director of Joining Forces.
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Eighty-two-year-old Arkansas resident Gerald was diagnosed with end-stage coronary artery disease. He came to us with a simple yet powerful dream request: to reconnect with aspects of his former military service by revisiting the USS Laffey at Patriot’s Point, South Carolina. Gerald had served on the USS Laffey from 1950-1954 as a sailor in the U.S. Navy, working as a machinist mate in the engine room. He traveled the world on that ship and saw three tours in Korea during the war. His final dream was to walk the decks one last time, 60 years after the culmination of his service.
“I just wanted to come back and see actually what happened to me in my early 20s,” Gerald said. “I think the bottom line was the four years changed me. I was a different person when I left.”
Gerald’s Navy experiences included a 28-day stretch when, from off the Korean coast, he remembers the Laffey pouring shells at targets on the mainland. He described how the ship would roll from side to side when the guns were fired and how he would go out with a couple of other sailors in small wooden boats to clear mines. It had to be done at night, he recalls, with no lights and no weapons except for knives. He said the metal from the guns might have exploded the floating mines.
We arranged for Gerald and his daughter’s reunion aboard the USS Laffey, including a special tour, catered luncheon, and the opportunity to share stories with members of the press and in an oral history interview. Father and daughter then spent the weekend touring Patriot’s Point, where Gerald became an instant local celebrity. Members of the community stopped him frequently as they recognized him and wanted to thank him for his service. We are honored to help support veterans like Gerald by giving them the opportunity to share their stories and receive acknowledgement for their military service.
The Chance to Dream Again
Ninety-four-year-old New Jersey resident Ethel met her husband Carl when she was serving as a U.S. Army nurse during World War II. While struggling with the effects of terminal lymphoma, the couple was forced to put their house on the market in order to meet the financial obligations associated with her care and treatment. We fulfilled Ethel’s dream for her and Carl to attend the monthly pancake breakfast at their local American Legion post, then take a drive to visit their old home and see the military cemetery where they will one day be buried.
When time has been cut short due to terminal illness, a dream allows people like Ethel to reconnect with meaningful aspects of their past and honor a life full of love, service and community. For more of Ethel’s dream and to see pictures, follow this link.
If You Served, You Can Dream
Founded in 1994, Dream Foundation is the only national dream-granting organization for adults and their families battling life-threatening illness. We touch lives, meet needs, reunite families and provide joy, peace and comfort at the end of life’s journey through the fulfillment of a final dream. Over the course of its 20-year history, we have served more than 20,000 final dreams in communities large and small throughout all 50 states, providing a vital resource for adults with life threatening illness, many of which – like Gerald and Ethel – have been U.S. military veterans.
This year marks another milestone for Dream Foundation with the official launch of its Dreams For Veterans sub-program. Having learned the importance of acknowledging Veterans, honoring their service and sharing their personal stories, Dreams for Veterans effectively tailors the dream experience for Veterans and their families, providing the invaluable opportunity to honor a Veteran’s service while engaging, honoring and appreciating their families and communities.
The public launch of Dreams For Veterans will take place Sept. 17 at The Reserve Officers Association of The United States in Washington, D.C. The event will be attended by some of our recent Veteran dream recipients and their families, who will be presented Dreams For Veterans ‘Challenge Coins’ by their members of Congress. Members of other Veterans Service Organizations will participate in a panel discussion on palliative care For Veterans.
Dreams for Veterans recipients are U.S. military Veterans 18 years or older with a life expectancy of 12 months or less, and who lack the means to manifest his or her dream unassisted. Final dreams range from basic needs items such as a mobility scooter, lift chair, working appliance or laptop, to bedside reunions, final vacations with family, meeting a personal hero, or reconnecting with aspects of former military service.
Dream Foundation receives no public funding and has never turned down a qualified dream request. Please consider sharing Dreams for Veterans with Veterans in need, which will enable Dream Foundation to fulfill their final wishes. In addition to referring applicants, you can learn more about how you can participate in honoring and acknowledging a Veteran dream recipient or how you can help spread the word in your community by visiting www.dreamfoundation.org/veterans or calling (888) 4DREAMS/(888) 437-3267.
It has been the dream of James “Jim” Malone to take his family on a trip to Washington D.C. for years. When Malone was diagnosed with stage four esophageal cancer, he thought that dream was over.
That was before MD Anderson Cancer Center helped Malone and his wife apply for the Dream Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to adults facing life-threatening illnesses.
Malone, a Veteran of the Navy, was informed that now that dream will come true.
“It feels really great because Jim is so proud of his service to his country.” Sheri Malone, Jim’s wife said. “He loves his country and it was great to see him honored for his service.”
The Dream Foundation was able to honor his wish, in part, because of his service in the Navy.
“I was honored to serve, it wasn’t my plan to get honored.” he said from a table in a Chandler Carl’s Jr.
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