John Flint still was soaring the day after his Honor Flight trip to the U.S. war memorials in Washington, D.C. The nationally-treasured sights, surprise on-flight mail call and grand welcome home celebration at St. Pete-Clearwater International airport all left this humble 91-year-old WWII Navy veteran and Suncoast Hospice volunteer awestruck and honored.
“Honor Flight is a really wonderful thing. The greeting was overwhelming. There were families, children and community organizations saying welcome home and thank you with signs and flags. That was very emotional,” shared Flint.
The week before Veterans Day, Honor Flight West Central Florida took off on its Mission 28 flight with 76 local war-era veterans and their volunteer guardians. Empath Health, including member Suncoast Hospice and a specialized veterans program, hosts the Honor Flight orientations and some Honor Flight At Home events that simulate the flight experiences for those physically unable to travel to D.C.
Another special part of the trip for Flint was being paired with a great guardian, an Air Force veteran of 16 years. Attending a previous welcome home with his beloved wife, Bettie, and her GFWC North Pinellas Woman’s Club group, propelled Flint’s desire to sign up to go.
“At that welcome home, I saw all these guys coming off the plane and they were so happy. I’ve been to D.C. before but didn’t spend a lot of time there. I looked forward to seeing the WWII monument,” Flint said.
Duty, Service, Coming Home
Flint joined the Navy as a young man and served from December 1942 to May 1946 during WWII. After serving, he returned home, found a sweetheart and built a good life for themselves and their family.
“I was born on Long Island in New York, where I lived most of my life. I quit high school to enlist in the Navy. It was common at that time for young people to leave school to go in the service. For about a year, I served on a landing ship (LSMR) as an electrician’s mate. When I got out of the service, I left on a bus and walked home in my uniform, that’s all I had. I went to work for Long Island Lighting Company as a cable splicer. In the meantime, I got married and had three children,” Flint explained.
A Journey of Loss, New Love and New Purpose
Many years later in life during retirement, the Flints transplanted to Florida. Then, their lives took an unexpected turn.
“We came to Florida in January 1990. Within a few months after moving here my wife died suddenly. Sometime after that I felt like I needed some sort of support, and God put hospice in my mind. I never had anything to do with hospice before. I called hospice and they put me into a spouse loss bereavement group that lasted six weeks. About ten of us from that group really bonded and went on to meet in a local park for lunch every week for about a year. In that time, I grew closer to a woman in our group and we eventually got together and married. We’re coming up on our 25 years next July,” he said.
The couple has enjoyed helping others through community service. Bettie has been active with her women’s group and both have served with their church and Suncoast Hospice.
“After we left the bereavement group and before we were married, she started a little group in her home for people who’ve lost loved ones. It grew into a bereavement meeting at our church for about 16 years and I helped her with that. She did volunteering with hospice for a while, including decorating and helping with different events. I started with hospice as a patient and family support volunteer for about 7 years. We got into economic difficulty at home so I left hospice and got a job driving a limo for a retirement home for quite a few years before I retired again. About 7 years ago somebody from hospice came to our church and put on a talk and I became a hospice volunteer again.”
Continuing to Serve
Flint has supported and comforted many patients and families, including fellow veterans. He’s happy to be there for those in their time of need.
He shared, “From the beginning I’ve been a companion for terminally-ill people in their homes. Sometimes, I’ll take them to doctors’ appointments or sit and talk. A lot of them do want to talk and some don’t. I do whatever the patients want. I’m there for them. I feel like I’m doing something for somebody and I like that.”
Thanks, Make a Difference
This Veterans Day, we thank veterans and their families for their admirable service and sacrifice to our country. All veterans in our community are invited to join our mission of care. Please contact us online or call us at 727-523-3440 for more information about volunteer opportunities throughout Empath Health.