Veterans share their stories, their lives at Wilmore's Thomson-Hood

Thomson-Hood in Wilmore a good option for families

jwarren@herald-leader.comJanuary 18, 2012 

WILMORE — Maybe music helped Archie Kendrick get through the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago.

Kendrick, 88, a resident at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center, recalls that he kept singing the song Do You Care while bombs were exploding all around his ship, the USS Tennessee, on Dec. 7, 1941.

"It was a Bing Crosby song, and it helped," Kendrick said.

Maybe the tune took his mind off all the horror around him; maybe it calmed his nerves. Maybe the song was just stuck in Kendrick's head because Crosby had recorded it a few months earlier.

Whatever it was, Kendrick, just 18 at the time, kept right on singing while he helped feed five-inch shells to an anti-aircraft gun, firing so many rounds at Japanese planes that the barrel overheated. Even today he can sing the words: "Do you care? Is there a chance for me? Do you care? I wish I knew."

You'll find lots of stories like Kendrick's at Thomson-Hood. The center, which accepts veterans with medical nursing needs, has room for 285 patients and usually runs at 90 percent capacity. All of the residents, men and women alike, have served in the U.S. military, representing every branch of service except the Coast Guard. Most are from World War II, others from Korea or Vietnam.

"They're an amazing group of people; it's an absolute thrill to work with them," said Barbara Bolt, assistant administrator at Thomson-Hood center and a retired Army lieutenant colonel herself.

The center provides residents with a variety of medical services, depending on their needs. Some residents, for example, suffer from dementia. But the center also offers other services to keep residents active, including arts and crafts, and outings to the surrounding community.

Thomson-Hood, which celebrated its 20 anniversary last year, is the largest of three such centers operated by the Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs. The others are the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center at Hazard, and the Western Kentucky Veterans Center at Hanson, near Madisonville.

Construction is expected to start later this year on a fourth center, which will be at Radcliff, near Fort Knox.

The centers all have the same purpose: serving honorably discharged Kentucky military veterans who need continuous skilled nursing care.

Lisa Aug, a spokeswoman for the state veterans affairs department, said that before the residential centers were built, veterans' families essentially were on their own to find places for them to stay.

Families of veterans living in the centers pay a monthly fee on a sliding scale. Fees can run as high as about $3,700 a month, although veterans with high levels of disability can have almost all of their expenses covered by the federal government, Aug said.

Costs to families are less than half the fees charged at similar homes run by other organizations, Aug said.

"It's a big benefit for our veterans," she said. "But even so, we've had some admissions delayed due to the economic crunch. Some families have decided that they can't afford the costs and have decided to keep their veterans at home."

Sometimes, family members who have been laid off from their jobs are available to stay with the veterans, she said.

Meanwhile, Bolt said, applications for Thomson-Hood are expected to rise as veterans get older. Applications are now picking up among Vietnam veterans, officials say.

"It's hard to bring your loved one into a nursing home," Bolt said. "But after a week or two, you can start to see new residents making a transition, establishing bonds with other residents like the ones they had when they were on active duty in the service.

"Veterans pull together. There's a special camaraderie there."

Kendrick moved to Thomson-Hood almost two years ago, after Nannie Jean, his wife of 65 years, passed away. He has a large extended family, with eight children and 28 grandchildren, plus great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

Shelby Horn of Nicholasville, one of Kendrick's six daughters, said Thomson-Hood "has been a godsend" for the family. It provides the services Kendrick needs, she said, and the center's location makes it easy for relatives to visit him.

"We each work, but at least one of us can get over to see him every day," Horn said. "Sometimes, I take him out on Saturday for breakfast or something, just to get away. It's really been awesome."

Kendrick, who was born in Estill County, became a contractor after the war and worked on large construction projects in Kentucky and Florida. His family said he seldom mentioned his war experiences until finally opening up about 10 years ago.

He told them about the Japanese bomb that landed near him without exploding. He told about using a high-pressure water hose to keep burning oil away from the Tennessee and how he helped pick up bodies of the dead.

"You're a real hero to us," Bolt told him recently.

But Kendrick said he doesn't feel like a hero.

"I'm just awfully lucky to have made it back home," he said.

Reach Jim Warren at (859) 231-3255 or 1-800-950-6397 Ext. 3255.

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