Jacksonville, N.C. -- Tears rolled down the cheeks of Cecil Swenson as Marine Maj. Rich Bourgeois placed a flower and U.S. flag on Swenson's bed. Other Marines stood at attention as a certificate honoring Swenson was read. One might think this was the scene of a dying man's last moment; what was actually taking place was the honoring of a U.S. serviceman on Veterans Day here.
Bourgeois, the commanding officer of Electronics Maintenance Company, 2d Force Service Support Group, and eight other ELMACO Marines recently spent their day off paying respect to former U.S. servicemen on Veterans Day at local assisted living quarters.
"We wanted to visit those veterans that came before us, and let them know people care and remember their service," said Bourgeois. "Some of the people we talked to never get visitors; and on Veterans Day, that's the least we could do."
Bourgeois said the idea to visit Britthaven of Onslow and the Christian Care Lighthouse came from more than his conscience, it came from a radio program his wife was listening to.
"Paul Harvey was telling the story of an Air Force officer who visited nursing homes on Veterans Day," he explained. "Harvey said the officer walked into a room of a man who hadn't spoken in six months; and when the patient saw the officer he sat up at attention in bed and tears streamed down his face. So that's were the idea came from."
At Britthaven, the ELMACO Marines entered each veteran's room, read the certificate, played their service song, and handed each patient a flower and flag. The Marines did the same at the Christian Care Lighthouse. However, it was more ceremonial as the servicemen were honored all at once in the building's main lobby.
"The Marine's visit here goes a long way in the veterans knowing people are thinking about them," said Dennis Enperly, a social worker at Britthaven. "The visit helps with spirit of everyone."
Bourgeois said he wants people to see this effort and remember that respect and honor needs to be paid especially to the World War II veterans who are dying off at devastating rate. He said if people don't recognize this fact now, these veterans will soon be gone.
According to Lance Cpl. Brian McManus, a computer technician from Eunice, La., the visit for him was good and bad.
The 22-year-old explained the visit was scary in the fact that one day it could be him lying in that very bed where Swenson was crying. He said it makes him feel good though knowing the few minutes it took him to put on his uniform and visit these sick vets, may be an hour of memories in these veteran thoughts.