Richard Mann, a 90-year-old Coast Guard veteran of World War II, is observing the finer things in life again.
“This town’s got some of the best-looking women you ever saw,” Mann said. “And being a bachelor, I can speak my peace.”
A thoughtful donation of a used motorized wheelchair propelled Mann into the fast lane of the mobilized world.
Now he can make an easy trip to nearby Shanley Park to soak up some sun – and admire the pretty ladies along the way.
Even the cataracts in his eyes haven’t robbed him of that.
“It was a lifesaver,” Mann said.
He added with a nod, “I’ve been stuck in this place long enough. It’s ’bout time I got out on the sidewalk.”
Mann, who served in the Coast Guard from 1942-46 and was a Seaman third class, said words can’t describe how happy he’s felt since receiving the wheelchair.
Having caretaker Randall Smith around five days a week – plus friendly visits from him on the weekends – has also made a huge positive impact.
“I’ve been completely tied up indoors,” Mann said. “I couldn’t get out. I didn’t have anybody that I could walk with. The problem was, until Mr. Smith came along I was bedfast. I had just about give up.”
Mann calls the power wheelchair his limousine.
That sense of humor was obvious Thursday morning at Mann’s apartment on West Rucker Street during a visit from the some of the people who made the donation happen.
The group included Sally Masengarb, the woman who donated the Jazzy 614 Series power wheelchair to a Hood County veteran support organization, the Wet Veterans. The chair had belonged to Masengarb’s now-deceased husband, Tom, who was a Vietnam veteran. Tom’s father, like Mann, was a Coast Guard veteran.
Mann said he served on Coast Guard ships in the northern Atlantic Ocean that served as escorts and also dropped anti-submarine high-explosive depth charges so powerful “you’d think it was the end of the world.”
He said that during one mission in the Bering Sea the water and wind got so rough that “it blew the paint off our ship. We looked like a rust bucket. People would say, ‘Why don’t you paint that ship?’”
AN EMPTY CHAIR
Masengarb contacted Wet Veteran co-founders Pat and Mike Stewart. They were told by Linda Mallon, director of the Hood County Veterans Service Office, that Mann would be an ideal recipient of the wheelchair.
“I wanted to find somebody that really needed it,” Masengarb said. “So it was perfect. He is a wonderful gentleman. He is delightful. He couldn’t thank me enough. He said I saved his life.”
Before he received the chair, Mann was feeling anything but delightful – unable to get out of his apartment because he can’t walk without assistance.
“He told me he had given up. He was ready to die,” said Pat Stewart, who along with her husband Mike started Wet Veterans on Nov. 1, 2013. “He’s the sweetest, sweetest man.”
Smith is a private home health care worker who has been Mann’s primary caretaker for almost two years and has become his friend.
“It’s a world of difference,” Smith said of the chair. “He wants to go to the park in his limousine. He’s in that chair, basically, all day.”
Mann said he doesn’t have Medicaid or Medicare.
Masengarb said Mann wants the chair to be passed along to another veteran in need when he’s no longer able to use it.
Pat Stewart said she hopes that Masengarb’s gesture will be the start of something special within Wet Veterans, tentatively called Veteran Helping a Veteran. The effort will gather and coordinate donations of all sorts that could make a difference in the lives of a military veterans. The donations do not have to come from a military veteran or family.
For more information on Veteran Helping a Veteran donations, contact Mike Stewart at 817-776-0529 or Pat Stewart at 817-894-5516.
Each Friday night from 6:30-8, Pat Stewart serves as swim coordinator for the Wet Veterans who meet at the YMCA. The Wet Veterans also have peer-to-peer discussion sessions available.
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