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Donald McClarren: The Hero Next Door

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United States Air Force and Navy veteran Donald McClarrenBravery and honor are words reserved for the select few who have risked their lives in service of our country. For United States Air Force and Navy veteran Donald McClarren of Boiling Springs these are the words he lived by during his time as a Prisoner of War in North Korea. A humble and soft-spoken man, Donald may dismiss the word hero to describe him, but he is all of this and more to those who know and served with him.

Homeland Hospice recently recognized Donald with a special pin and certificate through the We Honor Veterans program, created by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The program works to improve the quality of health care for all veterans. Homeland Hospice is a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania. Homeland Chaplain John Good leads the program. (John was previously joined in leading the program by Chaplain Mark P. Harris, M.A., M.Div., Spiritual Counselor at Homeland Hospice and a former hospital corpsman, who passed away in 2021.)

As a young man growing up in Johnstown, Donald wanted to do his part to serve our country. He joined the Air Force in 1954 where he was trained in cryptography and worked as a communications technician for 10 years. After completing his time with the Air Force, Donald wanted to return to service as tensions between the United States and Korea and Vietnam were heating up.

“At the time, the Air Force didn’t have openings in my field,” Donald says. “I walked across the building to the Naval recruiting office and joined that day.”

Donald continued deciphering encrypted messages with the Navy, spending time around the world. His life and the history of our country were forever changed on January 23, 1968 when his ship, the USS Pueblo, was attacked and captured in the Sea of Japan by the North Korean military.

The Pueblo was on a peaceful mission to monitor, record and analyze wireless communications. On board were 83 servicemen, primarily trained as communications technicians. When the ship came under attack by North Korean PT boats, submarine chasers and an aircraft, the Pueblo did not fire back as its one .50-caliber machine gun was under deck. Trying to place the gun in firing position would put the men in peril. One crew member died while destroying classified materials. The others were taken prisoners.

From January to December of 1968, Donald and his fellow crew mates were routinely interrogated and tortured. At the time, the United States Department of Defense did not recognize the members of the Pueblo as Prisoners of War.

“Every day I thought about my father and how he was coping,” Donald says. “I worried my captivity would kill him.”

At one point in his imprisonment, the Pueblo crew was shown a propaganda piece of a North Korean sports team competing in England. Part of the news story included footage of everyday life in England. In one frame, an English businessman looked into the camera and raised his middle finger in protest.

“Our guards asked us what this meant,” Donald says with a smile. “We said it was a Hawaiian good luck sign.”

Days later, the guards took photos of the crew to send back to their families to assure them the servicemen were healthy and well-cared for under the North Korean’s watch. In every photo, crewmembers discreetly displayed the “Hawaiian good luck sign” in silent protest.

As the photos made their way to friends and family stateside they were printed in a small town newspaper. Eventually the story and photos were picked up by Time International, which made its way into the hands of the North Korean military, including the guards of the Pueblo’s crew.

“We had the worst week of our lives after the guards read the magazine,” Donald adds. “Somehow we made it.”

Not long after the Time International story ran, the interrogations and beatings stopped, and the soldiers learned they were going home. Donald and his crewmates were taken to the 38th parallel, a popular name given to latitude 38 degrees north, which is the demarcation line between North and South Korea.

“I didn’t believe it was true until I crossed the line into South Korea,” Donald says. “I was finally free.”

While the crew of the Pueblo was free, part of their story and the destiny of their beloved ship remained entwined with North Korea. Donald went on to finish his naval career, retiring as a recruiter while stationed in Montana. The ship’s skipper Commander Lloyd Bucher nearly faced a court-martial trial based on his decision not to secure the machine gun under deck and retaliate. The Navy eventually dropped the proceedings citing the mental toil the crew had already endured.

“Commander Bucher had the support of the entire crew,” Donald says. “He was a good man who put our safety first.”

As for the USS Pueblo, it is still held by North Korea today. Pueblo is the only ship in the U.S. Navy still on the commissioned roster that is held captive.

Twenty-two years after Donald and his fellow crew mates were taken captive; they were finally recognized as Prisoners of War. Donald received the Prisoner of War Medal and Combat Action Ribbon for his valor in service to our country.

 

The Remarkable Life of Anna Weinfurter, WWII Veteran

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Former Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Anna WeinfurterA remarkable life is not given. It is earned through service above oneself and demonstrations of courage and compassion in extraordinary times. Anna Weinfurter’s journey began in Montana and took her across the country while serving in the United States Navy during World War II. While her uniform has been retired for decades, she continues to embody valor, honor and kindness.

Former Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Anna Weinfurter is an example of a remarkable life earned by rising to life’s challenges with bravery and faith.

Homeland Hospice recently recognized Anna, age 98 of Carlisle, with a special pin and certificate through the We Honor Veterans program, created by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) in collaboration with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). The program works to improve the quality of health care for all veterans. Homeland Hospice is a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania.

In addition, Chaplain Mark P. Harris, M.A., M.Div., Spiritual Counselor at Homeland Hospice and a former hospital corpsman, presented Anna with an authentic rank badge from her time in the Navy.

“I haven’t seen or touched a badge like this in so long,” Anna says with tears in her eyes. “I’m so happy to hold this again.”

As the daughter of homesteaders in Montana, Anna grew up surrounded by animals and acres of farmland. She was one of nine children in a close-knit family. After high school, Anna became a teacher. Her life, and the history of our country, changed when the United States entered WWII in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

“I was 20 when I entered the Navy,” Anna says. “My eldest brother chose the Navy and I was determined to follow in his footsteps.”

Pharmacist’s Mate First Class Anna WeinfurterAnna left the family farm for the first time in her life to report for duty in Seattle, Washington in the spring of 1942. She was assigned to Hunter’s College in New York City to complete basic training. Anna and her fellow soldiers traveled by “troop train” from Seattle to New York. A troop train solely transported military personnel. At the time, soldiers were segregated by rank and gender. During the day, Anna completed physical exercises, which included running alongside the train. At night, the train continued its journey to New York while the soldiers slept.

While at Hunter’s College, Anna had a chance encounter with her eldest brother, whose ship was docked in New York City for the weekend. Anna’s brother spotted her in a parade held to promote United States savings bonds. That weekend, Anna and her brother were guests of a local family who prepared an authentic Italian dinner. For Anna, this was her first experience eating food that didn’t come from her family’s farm.

“I was so surprised to see my brother and overwhelmed by the hospitality,” Anna says. “It was an unforgettable night.”

Following basic training, Anna once again traveled by train to Long Beach, California where she received pharmacist training, which is part of the scope of work of a hospital corpsman. As caregivers for both the Navy and Marines, hospital corpsmen treat the injuries and illnesses of soldiers in a variety of capacities and locations.

“I was one of only 13 women in the training course,” Anna recounts. “I knew how to type and had the experience of teaching which helped me advance.”

Anna next reported to Treasure Island California Naval Base in San Francisco Bay (closed in 1997), where she served for the next four years. During WWII, Treasure Island was used as a center for receiving, training, and dispatching service personnel serving in the South Pacific.

Anna was assigned to work with a high profile commander of the hospital at Treasure Island. Following the Bataan Death March in April 1942, surviving soldiers of the atrocity were sent to the hospital for immediate care before they were transferred to other bases for rehabilitation and recovery. Anna’s commander insisted on meeting each solider. Anna worked by his side as they collectively greeted each soldier and bared witness to this tragic moment in our nation’s history.

As the war progressed, Anna’s work, and that of the Navy base, remained focused on the fighting in the South Pacific. Unlike modern-day communication platforms, which provide instant access to news across the globe, Anna knew little about the war efforts in Europe.

When the news broke about the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, Anna and her fellow soldiers were overwhelmed with pride and happiness.

“We tossed our white caps into the air,” Anna remembers. “Throughout San Francisco everyone was celebrating. We couldn’t believe we did it.”

When WWII ended in September of 1945 Anna was in New York City. She was filled with relief and pure joy to see an end to the devastation. For Anna’s parents, the end of the war meant Anna and five of her six brothers would no longer be in harm’s way.

While her time as a Pharmacist’s Mate First Class came to an end, Anna’s service to our country as a military spouse continued. While at Treasure Island, Anna met and married Joe Barnett, a hospital corpsman from Alabama. Anna and Joe had one son Curtis Barnett, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, a beloved veterinarian who worked in Cumberland County until his death in 2017. Following Joe’s passing, Anna remarried. Her second husband, who also served in the military, has since passed away.

In July, Anna will celebrate her 99th birthday. Last year, during the closures of the COVID-19 pandemic, Anna’s community recognized her special day with a parade of cars passing her home. This year, Anna hopes to see her friends and neighbors in person. At nearly 99, Anna greets each day with gratitude and happiness.

“I’m honored I could serve my country,” Anna adds. “My life has been filled with blessings.”

Esther Mutua’s Journey Home

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In loving memory of Esther Ndunge MutuaChinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” For many of us, taking that first step requires the support and guidance of others. Recently, the staff at Homeland Hospice helped Esther Mutua take that first step to secure medical clearance and support services to travel more than 7,000 miles to her home in Nairobi, Kenya to spend time with her family during her end-of-life journey.

Esther’s story began last spring when she was diagnosed with stage four-pancreatic cancer while visiting her daughter Rachel White in Harrisburg. Esther and her husband frequently traveled between their home in Nairobi to Harrisburg to spend time with Rachel, their son, and grandchildren.

“My mother loved spending time with all of her family,” Rachel says, “While she traveled often, her home and heart were always in Nairobi.”

After learning of her diagnosis, Esther began medical treatment to combat the cancer. When all treatments and medical options were exhausted, she decided to return to Nairobi for her remaining days. Rachel planned her mother’s return to Nairobi beginning at John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport and connecting with Kenya Airways. At JFK, Rachel learned her mother needed a special form from her doctor to allow her to travel. Esther was turned away from her flight and dream of going home.

When the family returned to Harrisburg, a friend recommended Homeland Hospice to Rachel to help provide pain management, comfort and support to Esther. Homeland Hospice is a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania. Esther received a team of care to include a registered nurse case manager, hospice medical director, attending physician, volunteer coordinator, social worker, counselor and nursing aide assistants.

During their initial visit, Laurie Bassler, social worker, and Franchesca Washington, RN, learned about Esther’s wish to travel home to her country.

“Our work is about putting the patient first,” Laurie says. “We immediately went into action to make this happen.”

Over the following weeks, Laurie completed the necessary paperwork for Esther and advised the family about connecting with visiting nurse support for Esther once she returned to Nairobi. Franchesca secured a wheelchair and prescriptions. Esther, accompanied by family members, was able to return home earlier this year. She spent her final two weeks surrounded by her siblings, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and friends.

“We were with Homeland for a short time, but they gave us hope.” Rachel says. “We have comfort and peace knowing my mother’s wishes were honored.”

For Laurie and Franchesca, fulfilling this request was part of a job they love. The hospice team works diligently to understand all of their patient’s needs and desires, as well as those of the family.

“I love being part of a team that strives to overcome every hurdle,” Laurie says. “It’s a privilege to work with our hospice families.”

Homeland Hospice serves 14 counties throughout central Pennsylvania, providing end-of-life care either in a person’s home or wherever they reside, including nursing facilities. Homeland staff becomes even more closely involved as death approaches. This is one of hospice’s greatest strengths – helping the patient and loved ones cope as a person approaches life’s end.

To learn more, please contact Homeland Hospice at (717) 221-7890.

Pete and Pat Crosson: A Love That Knew No Bounds

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Pete and Pat Crosson in Formal AttireTelevision commercials portray Valentine’s Day as a time of grand gestures with red roses, jewelry and expensive dinners as the manner to express one’s love. Pete and Pat Crosson of McVeytown always knew what really mattered in love and lived everyday like it was Valentine’s Day. The couple demonstrated their love for one another through mutual respect, friendship and support for 57 years. They joined together as two individuals in their teenage years to form one unshakable and remarkable union.

“We did everything together because we loved each other’s company,” Pat says. “We never needed expensive vacations, just time together as a family made us complete.”

This Valentine’s Day will be the first Pat will not celebrate with Pete, who died last April after a brief and heroic battle with leukemia. During his final days, Pete received services from Homeland Hospice, a nonprofit hospice program that serves communities throughout Central Pennsylvania.

For the Crosson family, the work of Homeland is personal. Pete and Pat’s daughter Buffie Finney is the Assistant Director of Clinical Marketing for Homeland Hospice and their granddaughter, Bethany Traxler, is the Assistant Director of Activities for Homeland Center.

The story of Pete and Pat began at a summer “hop” held in their community. They married and had two children, Rick and Buffie. The couple moved into their home more than 50 years ago and filled the house with cherished memories. Their home was the place of family dinners on Sunday afternoons where hunting and fishing stories were shared and grandchildren and great grandchildren were doted on.

From their house, Pete and Pat often watched a white deer, a rare and beautiful creature, through their window. During Pete’s end of life journey he found comfort and peace watching the deer gracefully approach his home. After his passing, Pete’s family purchased a headstone with an etching of the home he and Pat shared. The white deer stands like a proud sentinel in the engraving.

Pete and Pat’s love extends beyond the couple’s time together and is a living legacy for their beloved granddaughter Bethany.

“My grandparents cherished the good times, but also took on the challenges of life together,” Bethany says. “The longer they were married, the more in sync they became.”

For Bethany, the lessons of a marriage filled with love and a life well lived are among the gifts she has learned from her grandparents and strives to emulate in her own life.

“My grandfather was a hardworking man,” Bethany adds. “He liked to say no one should ever call off work just because it’s a sunny day.”

These words of wisdom have guided Bethany in her career. Bethany began her time with Homeland as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) before moving on to serve as a marketing liaison. Around the time of her grandfather’s death, Bethany was thinking about the next step in her career and decided to return to college to advance her degree. While her plans were underway, she hadn’t shared this information with her grandparents.

Nurse Bethany and Pat Crosson at Homeland Hospice 5kDuring Pete’s final days, he frequently asked for Nurse Bethany to come to his aid. Bethany remained vigilant by his side for emotional support, allowing this hospice team to handle his direct care. While she wondered why he referred to her as a nurse, this warm and loving term of endearment let her know her grandfather saw Bethany as someone who would always be there for him.

Weeks following his death, Bethany shared her college plans with her grandmother. Bethany is a studying marketing at Central Penn College. Her ultimate goal is a degree in Health Care Administration. Like her grandfather, Bethany’s hard work is tested every day as she balances her education with her new position as assistant director of activities for Homeland Center.

“One of Pete’s final wishes was for Bethany to further her education,” Pat says. “I think he was trying to communicate this message to her by calling her Nurse Bethany.”

As February 14 comes closer and many of us frantically send cards and place orders for flowers, Bethany and Pat will honor Pete by simply loving their family without limits or boundaries. As Bethany takes on her new role with Homeland, she will undoubtedly find herself staring at Pete’s wedding ring, which she has worn since the night he died. Pat is transforming Pete’s shirts into pillows for his grandchildren and great grandchildren.

“It’s the little things that add up in a lifetime,” Pat says. “These are the memories I will always cherish.”