For people who suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, often past memories survive even while short-term memory slips or disappears altogether. This can result in someone not knowing what day or year it is. Sometimes it puts those individuals in their own memories, causing them to think it is currently years or decades earlier — living in the past, as it were. For Air Force veteran Lawrence Silk, dementia causes him to live with the fear that he will be sent back to fight in Vietnam.
Staff Sgt. Lawrence Silk served in the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War. Today he is fighting a completely different battle: dementia. He’s not alone in this fight, though, thanks to his loving family and his still devoted squadron from the Air Force.
Silk, who is living in hospice care and suffering from dementia, has a recurring fear that he will be sent back to Vietnam or feels the need that he needs to return to the fight in Vietnam despite the fact that he left the Air Force four decades ago. To try and help relieve these feelings — even if only for a short while — Lawrence’s daughter and son-in-law put a post on Facebook asking for any military officer to visit and let him know that his service to his country had been fulfilled and relieve him of duty for the second time in his life.
The answer they got was absolutely astounding.
The original post on Facebook, written by son-in-law Kenny Dunn, read, “My father in law is a retired Air Force Sargent [sic] and is going through the late stages of dementia. He is 84 years old and did three tours in Vietnam. He believes he has to return to the war to complete his tour and is very upset that his memory care home will not let him go. He is currently in hospice care and through his ups and downs he consistently is haunted by his need to do his duty. We are asking for a current or retired Military officer to volunteer to come visit him in uniform and relay to him that his responsibility to his country has been fulfilled. Perhaps present a certificate of some kind and take a picture so we can show it to him in the event that he forgets. Please message me with any questions or leads. Thank you so much!”
Lt. Col. Andy LaFrazia answered the call to help a fellow Air Force veteran and showed up at the hospice in full uniform. As luck would have it, both Silk and LaFrazia served in the 446th Civil Engineering Squadron, Prime BEEF (Base Engineer Emergency Force) Unit. Silk retired in 1974. LaFrazia just recently retired. The Lieutenant Colonel presented Lawrence with a certificate of appreciation from the U.S. Air Force, a Civil Engineering badge, and challenge coins from his units.
Silk’s daughter, Julie Dunn, said on Facebook that Lt. Col. LaFrazia then had a talk with Lawrence and let him know that “his responsibilities to the USAF and the Vietnam Conflict have been concluded and he never has to worry again about returning.”
“We would like to extend our sincerest thanks to Lieutenant Colonel Andy LaFrazia for coming out and visiting with my Father,” Julie said in a Facebook post. “We hope and pray that the Lt. Colonel’s kind words and message of reassurance can serve as a daily reminder to Him that his duty is done.”
On Reddit, Kenny Dunn said of Lt. Col. LaFrazia, “I could not have asked for a more gracious man to come and help us.” Along with having the certificate, badge, and coins, Julie and Kenny also took photos of the two retired Airmen from the 446th CES together to remind Lawrence if he ever forgets. And while he knows that his father-in-law’s memory may betray him again in the future, Kenny said helping with the struggles of dementia is a challenge they take “One day at time, it’s the best we can hope for.”
“When a loved one loses their memory in the twilight of their life the most that we can hope to give them is comfort and dignity. We feel truly blessed that a community of strangers came together to help us bring that to him when he needed it the most,” said his daughter. “My family and I want to thank all of those in this community for your advice and counsel, your prayers and well wishes. And most of all to the Andy LaFrazia and his daughter Hannah. Thank you a thousand times. May God bless you all and may God bless the Veterans of the United States of America.”
While hope is something taken one day at a time, this was certainly one very good day for Staff Sgt. Lawrence Silk. Whether it is his relatives or his military family, he is truly loved, cared for, and getting the respect he has earned. This good deed done by Lt. Col. Andy LaFrazia is inspiring, and hopefully the memory of that and the knowledge that he served his country with honor will last with Lawrence Silk and be comfort to him for the rest of his life.
Jacob H. is an award-winning journalist and photojournalist who currently resides is West Michigan with his wife. In his spare time, Jacob enjoys writing, photography, mountain climbing, and camping.