Drinking Hitler’s wine, Michael Sharon, far left with his army buddies. ©Photo property of Sharon Family.
Since January of this year, Michael Sharon’s retirement includes regular visits from home aide Olivia thanks to the VetAssist Program - and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Like many veterans, Michael Sharon visits the VA's New Jersey Health Care Clinic about once a year.
Michael’s daughters, Andrea Sharon and Patricia Gallucci, were concerned about him, almost 98, and his wife, Olga (nee Barchewski) 94, living on their own. Their research into home care options led them to a social worker and ultimately to Veterans Home Care's VetAssist Program. Now Michael and Olga have Olivia who visits about 18 hours a week to help with daily living needs.
"This program allows my parents to age in place," said Andrea.
“We’ve been very happy to have Olivia help us,” said Michael. “We met Evan (Kaltman) and then we worked with others at VetAssist and they’ve been very helpful.”
Evan Kaltman is a Managing Partner and Director of Veterans Home Care NYJ, which offers the VetAssist Program.
Michael served during all of WWII
“Locamus” is the Distinctive Unit Insignia (DUI) or crest worn by Army Infantry Veteran Michael Sharon’s WWII unit.
Michael joined the US Army in 1941 months before the United States entered World War II and was released from active duty late in 1945 when the war ended. After Basic Training in North Carolina, he took heavy artillery training – 240mm Howitzer – in Fort Sill, OK and then shipped out of New York City with the 290th Infantry. After training in Wales and Ireland, his unit deployed to Normandy and then Paris before eventually occupying Hitler’s retreat in
“We raided Hitler’s wine cellars,” Michael recalls. "To get in there, we had to use a torch and it was all smoky and when you came back out you had to come out on your hands and knees. We took 18 bottles of french wine and champagne but we were used to homemade wine from back on the farm so we didn't think the fancy stuff tasted too good."
Michael’s photos of his time in Burchessgarten, Germany include one of him and his buddies enjoying some of that wine and another of him on Hitler’s yacht.
But his harshest memory is from battle where he manned a machine gun. “There were 4 machine guns,” he recalls. “We were shooting at the enemy – and the Germans were coming at us.”
Salzburg, Germany, Michael’s home his last 9 months in the Army, prompts memories spanning a gamut of emotions, from the pastries – “I loved the Napoleons” – to flowers at the PX that made him think of Olga.
Michael and Olga Sharon circa 1941, WWII era ©Photo property of Sharon Family.
Michael and Olga met before he joined the Army and even though she had dated other men before meeting Michael, they stayed in touch by mail while he served in Europe.
“I saw flowers in the PX and thought of Olga,” he said. He decided to send a dozen roses to Olga in New York where her family owned a deli. Upon his return to the United States, they went to dinner where he intended to propose, but lost his nerve. A few days later he mustered up the courage and finally proposed. “I told her I may not be your first but I want to be your last,” he said.
That was 71 years ago. Aside from the memories it evokes, Michael’s time in Germany is notable as it applies to VetAssist.
“Wartime service is required in qualifying for the VA’s Aid and Attendance benefit,” said Kaltman.
Veterans or the surviving spouse of a veteran who served at least 90 days on active duty with at least one day during wartime and an honorable discharge are encouraged to contact the VetAssist Program.
Persian Gulf War veterans must have two years of active duty and there are qualifying dates for service in the Korean Conflict and Vietnam.
“We help veterans determine if they qualify for the VA Aid and Attendance Pension Benefit and then identify and obtain documents needed for the application,” said Kaltman.
Michael’s daughter Patricia appreciates the help.
"I would definitely recommend VetAssist to other veterans,” she said. “It helps my parents stay in their home and continue their life as they like."
The Sharon Family (left to right) daughter Andrea Sharon, WWII veteran Michael Sharon, daughter Patricia Gallucci, wife Olga Sharon ©Photo property of Sharon Family.
Services that can be arranged include:
· Help with dressing
· Medication reminders
· Meal preparation
· Transferring to and from bed
· Personal care
· Respite care
· Light housekeeping
Patricia suggests that veterans get in touch with Veterans Home Care directly.
To contact the VetAssist Program, call 1-888-314-6075 or visit the homepage, www.veteranshomecare.com.