Erwin “Gene” Carman (born 1918) served in the US Army Air Corps during WWII. He was shot down over France on August 8, 1944, and captured by German forces, only to have them surrender to him 11 days later.
Roughly 16 million Americans served during World War II. Carman is one of approximately 558 thousand still alive today, though in hospice care with Four Seasons Compassion for Life.
Since its partnership with the national initiative “We Honor Veterans” in November 2014, Four Seasons hospice has honored nearly 300 veterans by formally thanking them in a pinning ceremony, which includes a “final salute” by a member of MOAA (Military Officers Association of America.) This time, it was Carman’s turn.
He wore a pressed, blue Oxford shirt and sat upright in bed. He was alert and surrounded by visitors, including his daughter, Dr. Carrie Carman. At 99 years old he was not used to being the center of attention, but greeted everyone warmly. John Knapp, a member of MOAA there to perform the ceremony, acknowledged that since Carman served in the Army Air Corps, he came prepared with a pin depicting the US flag crossed with the Army flag. However, just in case Carman identified himself more as an Air Force man, he had brought a pin with the Air Force and US flags crossed. Carman chose the Army flag, which Knapp pinned to the right lapel of Carman’s jacket. Knapp called all veterans in the room to attention, and all, including Carman still sitting as straight as his frame could hold him, raised their right hands in salute.
Jan Buchanan, Chaplain with Four Seasons, continued the ceremony and spoke of how “1 in every 4 dying persons in America is a veteran,” and how we need to do a better job caring for these individuals. She spoke to Carman directly, reading the certificate to him and thanking him for his military service, “We are all indebted to you for your service,” she said to Carman as she pinned the We Honor Veteran pin to his left lapel. He paused, then replied, “Indebtedness takes a reciprocal turn. It is an honor to have received this pin.”