Spirit of Alabama: Facility offers a comfortable space for veterans’ final years in Alabama
It can be a challenge these days to find something everybody agrees on, but one of those things is probably taking good care of veterans.
Well, the Col. Robert L. Howard Veterans Home in Pell City makes that its No. 1 job. The care facility opened in 2012, and is named for Alabama’s most decorated special forces soldier.
Along with the Medal of Honor, Howard received the Distinguished Service Cross, a Silver Star, four Bronze Stars and eight Purple Hearts for his service in Vietnam.
“I didn’t realize really the honor itself and appreciate myself until the award ceremony in Washington D.C. and the courtesy that was extended to me by President (Richard) Nixon and First Lady (Patricia Ryan) Nixon,” Howard said. “That’s when I felt the responsibility and honor in receiving the award and the real responsibility that went with receiving the award.”
Facility Director Hiliary Hardwick has been working there from the beginning.
“I look forward to coming to work every day,” Hardwick said. “I’ve been here for nine years, and was admissions director when the home opened, so I’ve literally been a part of every admission to this facility.”
As soon as you enter the building, it’s obvious that our nation’s history and the men and women who have served are being remembered there. Along the large main hallway, there are insignias for each military branch, along with display cases with uniforms and photographs that tell the story of our nation’s sacrifices.
“I tell people all the time we have living history here,” Hardwick said. “I have a gentleman here who was on the beaches of Normandy. He was one of the first guys who stormed the beaches there and I’ve heard his story firsthand.”
Being around the veterans is a history lesson in and of itself.
“We have a nurse here who was with the Tuskegee Airmen, so I get to talk to people who have lived history, not just read it in a book,” she said. “It’s made an impression on me and my life.”
Dr. Frank Connery practiced in Birmingham and served at the VA hospital there for years before he became a patient himself. Three years ago, his wife of 57 years brought him to the veterans’ home because of dementia.
“He gets the kind of care that didn’t happen any place else,” said Mary Louise, Connery’s wife. “The care is wonderful, and he’s aware of it.”
When a veteran dies in the facility, they’re not taken away without ensuring their legacy is honored. The facility’s Hall of Honor is lined with staff members no matter the time of day or night, offering up one last salute for the resident.
There are four state-run veterans’ homes in Alabama, and another is on the way.
Col. Robert L. Howard died in 2009, but his name and service will never be forgotten, nor will the veterans who call the building named in his honor home.