On a beautiful day in May 2019, three Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice team members sat on Bill Yaeger’s living room couch intently listening as he talked. A U.S. Navy Veteran and current Samaritan patient, Bill sat in an arm chair adjacent the couch recalling moments from his childhood and sharing stories about his time in the service.
While Bill never saw active combat, he played an important role as a machinist mate in the engine room of USS Wright, a Saipan-class light aircraft carrier, later converted to a command ship in the Korean War. As part of Samaritan’s “We Honor Veterans” program, the team members were there to recognize Bill with a special ceremony, but he ended up honoring them just as much – by sharing a piece of himself.
Left: Spiritual Support Counselor Joe DeSantis, William Yaeger, and Social Worker Serena Hnosko
As Bill recalled stories from his past, they could see the proud, yet humble look on his face. Periodically, he would pause, excuse himself and walk into the other room to grab memorabilia to animate his tales – each piece lovingly placed in a plastic overlay.
At the age of 13, Bill started working at the Spring Hill Country Club in Maple Shade where he earned a love for machines. He learned about different ones and how they worked. This is also where he met golf champion Al Besselink for whom he was a caddy. Bill’s work at the golf course helped him earn money as he worked his way through vocational school where he honed his skills as a machinist.
With a good work ethic and technical skills in hand, Bill couldn’t have anticipated the difficulty he’d have getting into the Navy, jumping through hoops to prove he’d completed enough schooling. But not only did Bill prove he had the proper education, he also passed the service exam with flying colors, scoring 8 out of 127 soldiers who took the test.
While in the Navy, Bill’s path crossed that of Jessie LeRoy Brown, the first African-American aviator and U.S. Navy Officer. Despite never meeting in person, they had a lot in common. Both were initially rejected by the Navy, but neither gave up. Bill worked in the engine room and Jessie flew a plane off of the same carrier.
As his stories concluded, the Samaritan team members got the honor to do what they had traveled to his home in Medford, NJ to do – perform the “We Honor Veterans” ceremony during which Social Worker Serena Hnosko read a special poem, Spiritual Support Counselor Joe DeSantis pinned an American flag to Bill’s lapel, and both presented Bill with a certificate and a “We Honor Veterans” blanket on behalf of Samaritan.
After all was said and done, Samaritan Chaplain Joe Desantis asked Bill: “If you could title your story, what would it be”? Bill modestly answered: “My story, that’s all.”
*Mr. Yaeger died peacefully in his home in June 2019.