“I’ve had a lot of buddies die here,” the Elyria man said as he looked around the large room of 100-plus veterans honored Monday in a ceremony at Wesleyan Village.
Pondy, whose looks, spry manner and razor-sharp wartime memories belie his 88 years, talked about the ever-smaller number of World War II veterans he sees.
“There were 123 of us in my outfit. Now there are 23,” he said.
Pondy was among about 130 veterans, most from World War II and the Korean War, who received pins commemorating their military service Monday.
The pins were presented by New Life Hospice in Elyria and Hospice Veterans Partnership of Ohio. The organizations work together to improve veterans’ access to benefits and end-of-life hospice care they are entitled to — but often unaware of.
“Most know they get Medicare, but they can also receive substantial veterans benefits,” according to Joan Hanson, director of New Life Hospice.
The ceremony included a color guard from Elyria VFW Post 1079 and the playing of taps.
Most of the veterans on hand reside at Wesleyan Village or its affiliated Village Meadows near Lorain County Community College.
Others take part in daily activities and programs, according to Wesleyan Village’s Dawn Prokop.
Many of the veterans, some wearing medals, service ribbons and caps denoting their branch of the military, stood and saluted during the playing of the National Anthem, and at the end of the ceremony to sing “God Bless America.”
Most were clearly touched by the pins. Many stood but some sat, unable to rise easily.
Nearly all smiled and thanked those who pinned the Ohio-shaped pins to their shirts or jackets.
Pondy, who was among a number of veterans who were recognized, wore a blue and yellow Navy-themed sweatshirt and cap festooned with several medals including a Distinguished Flying Cross.
A member of a three-man crew aboard one of the Navy’s famed TBF Avenger torpedo bombers, Pondy manned a 50-caliber machine gun located in a bubble turret mounted below the plane’s fuselage.
“I took off facing backwards and landed facing backwards,” he said.
A veteran of 53 missions in the TBF Avenger, Pondy is still on a mission, this time helping fellow WWII vets.
For the past three years, Pondy has helped other veterans make the trip to the nation’s capital to see the five-year-old National World War II Memorial.
“They said I should go since I’m in better shape than most. I walked nine holes this morning and shot a 37,” he said.
“I pushed this old guy around Washington last spring,” Pondy said, interrupting himself as fellow veteran Robert Fawcett smiled and nodded as he moved past in a wheelchair.
Veterans with questions about benefits for hospice care may call New Life Hospice at (440) 934-1458 or (800) 770-5767.
Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or firstname.lastname@example.org.