Vietnam vet with dementia reassured 'your duty is done'

By Sherie Ryder
BBC News

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image source, Kenny Dunn
image captionLawrence Silk received a certificate of appreciation when Lt Col LaFrazia visited him

A Vietnam veteran with dementia has received a certificate of appreciation and regiment badges and coins to reassure him his fighting days are now over.

Eighty-four-year-old Lawrence Silk, who completed three tours of duty during the Vietnam War, now has dementia and insists he needs to return to the country to carry on fighting.

Lawrence lives in a care home in Vancouver and has days where he interacts and copes well and has "the charm turned way up," says son-in-law Kenny Dunn, but it's not always that way.

"After one visit to her father, my wife Julie broke down in tears because of all the problems he faces psychologically."

But it was his Vietnam memories which were plaguing him the most.

image source, Kenny Dunn
image captionLawrence Silk was convinced he had another tour to finish

Lawrence's daughter Julie was concerned her father was getting more anxious.

"He'd started to talk about the Pentagon, saying they were going to send someone out with his uniform and rifle so he could report for duty."

Julie and husband Kenny appealed for anyone who had served with him in the Civil Engineering Squadron Prime BEEF (Base Engineer Emergency Force) to come and help.

Certificate of appreciation

It was Kenny's idea to write an appeal on Facebook, as he explained on the Veterans section (or 'subreddit') of Reddit:

"He is consistently haunted by his need to do his duty so we are asking for a current or retired military officer to volunteer to visit him - in uniform - and tell him that his responsibility to his country has been fulfilled.

"Perhaps present a certificate of some kind and take a picture so we can show it to him in the event that he forgets."

Soon after the Facebook post went public, a recently retired lieutenant colonel from the same squadron agreed to visit Lawrence and tell him his duty had been done.

"It was pure coincidence that he was a commander of the same unit. It was perfect," said Kenny.

Lt Col LaFrazia presented Lawrence with a certificate of appreciation from the United States Air Force (USAF), a USAF civil engineering badge and coins from the Prime Beef and Red Horse units.

image source, Kenny Dunn
image captionOne of the USAF coins given to Lawrence by Col LaFrazia

Julie and her husband Kenny were so grateful that they posted their appreciation on Facebook and Reddit, along with photos of the emotional visit.

image source, Kenny Dunn
image captionLawrence was happy talking to a fellow veteran

"We hope and pray that the colonel's kind words and message of reassurance can serve as a daily reminder to him that his duty has been done," Julie wrote.

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There were soon plenty of words of support and advice for the family across both sites, with many people expressing their happiness for the family on Facebook.

image source, Facebook
image captionLots of heart-felt comments to Julie Dunn's Facebook post

One Reddit user advised Julie and Kenny to "take a picture of the gentleman in uniform and frame it.

"Put it in his room next to an old photo of the patient in his dress blues and whenever he starts having an episode, call his 'army buddy'. Any male voice will probably do the job, just let him know he's done his duty and is currently on leave."

Other users expressed their concern about Lawrence's sleeping arrangements with one noting how thin his mattress was and suggesting Julie and Kenny should get a mattress more than two inches thick.

Kenny was quick to point out that this was not an issue and Lawrence was perfectly happy with the conditions at his care home.

Along with all of the advice from complete strangers, Lawrence now has a selection of memorabilia to remind him of his past achievements and that he doesn't need to return to Vietnam.

"Col LaFrazia is a saint in our eyes," says Kenny.

"No stranger I have ever met has been more gracious, caring and understanding."

Col LaFrazia said he wanted to help people understand a veteran's story doesn't end when the war does, and hoped his visit highlighted some of the challenges aging veterans face and the support which can be provided for them.

image source, Kenny Dunn
image captionCol LaFrazia helped Lawrence to realise he was no longer at war

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