A WWII hero coping with loneliness after the death of his wife of 64 years was chosen, and ultimately won over, by a very special, special needs cat.
No guts, no glory
It was 1944 and Roy headed off to school like he did every day. Little did he know this would be no ordinary day, one that would shape the rest of his life. As the teen settled into class, men in military uniforms entered the room and asked if anyone wanted to enlist in the Army before being required to register for the draft upon turning eighteen.
With the war booming in Europe and the Pacific, it was a topic of conversation in local papers and radio shows. Regardless of the tales being told by returning soldiers or the stories filling the front page of newspapers, many brave men and women sought to join the ranks and fight for our country. Roy was one of these courageous souls who answered the call.
In September 1944 and only seventeen years of age, Roy enlisted in the military and joined the 24th Infantry Division of the United States Army.
Land of the free because of the brave
Roy was sent first to Fort Sheridan, Illinois before being deployed overseas. Upon receiving orders to go to war, he and his comrades embarked on a journey that they would not soon forget. Now 70 years later, the Army veteran recounts his military service during some of the most historic events of WWII.
“We went to the islands in the Philippines, then they [the U.S] dropped the A-bombs,” he recounts. “Then we went to Japan in the Army Occupation of Japan after they dropped the bombs.”
The 24th Infantry Division in which Roy served fought five campaigns in the Pacific, earning them the nickname “Victory Division.” His unit engaged in more campaigns than any other United States division in the Pacific during WWII. Their performance earned them the commendation of no less than General Douglas MacArthur:
“No division with which I have been associated with is closer to my heart than the 24th Division, and none has more distinguished itself.”
On Mindanao, the regiment took part in one of the remarkable feats of jungle warfare ever recorded: the advance of 140 miles through the jungle from Moro Gulf to Davao in 17 days, the 34th Regiment went into Japan at Shikoku, then to Honshu, Himeji, to Kyushu and to Sasebo, and Port Ainoura, which was later renamed Camp Mower in honor of Sgt. Charles E. Mower of the 34th.
The 24th Infantry Division was awarded a total of eight Distinguished Unit Citations for their participation in the great war.
Every story has an end, but every end is a new beginning
Roy is humble about his role in such a monumental piece of United States history – no less in a unit nicknamed the Victory Division – but his most potent memory of the time is not even about the war itself.
“I got married,” he says with a trace of young love in his voice, “on February 14, 1948.”
In 2012, following the death of his wife and soulmate Delores, Roy felt deeply alone. It was then that his daughter Shirley had the idea that a companion pet could help her father. She discovered Pets for Patriots and was delighted to learn that the nationwide charity program is open to all veterans at any stage of their careers, from any era of service and all armed forces – including WWII veterans.
It wasn’t long til father and daugher visited the Huron Valley Humane Society, a locally participating Pets for Patriots shelter partner which discounts adoption fees 50% for Pets for Patriots members in addition to offering an ongoing discount at their full-service veterinary clinic.
The pair was completely unaware that they were not there for Roy to choose a companion, but rather for a certain and very special cat to choose Roy.
Hooah! Hank scores a victory
It was early February 2014 when Hank and Roy first met.
The WWII veteran was a little hesitant to pet the then nine year-old buff-colored tabby cat, due to a mishap at a previous shelter that left Hank badly injured. But the spirited cat simply refused to be ignored.
“Hank put his paw out of the cage and grabbed me,” Roy recounts, “right on my shirt.”
Despite being at the shelter for nearly four months, few were interested in the senior cat and he remained homeless, yet hopeful.
“The ear infection made Hank’s ear deformed a little and a lot of people didn’t want him because of that, me included at first,” says Roy, but it seems as though Hank made a lasting impression. “I thought about it a day or two before adopting Hank, then of course I went back to get him.”
In truth, the military veteran didn’t really have much choice in the matter.
“Hank picked me,” he says with a laugh.
Roy honorably adopted Hank in February 2014, less than a week before Valentines Day. He was unaware that he was adopting the cat through the Pets for Patriots program for United States military veterans, only learning about it when he accompanied his daughter to the shelter to pick up Hank.
Roy’s daughter Shirley coordinated her father’s application and subsequent adoption with Pets for Patriots – as many children of elderly veterans do – and is very happy she did. For his part, Roy is equally a fan.
“Well I think it’s great!” he says about Pets for Patriots.
In addition to the benefits offered by the Humane Society of the Huron Valley, Hank received a generous contribution for ‘welcome home’ essentials to commemorate his companion pet adoption, and other benefits to make his adoption more affordable.
Companionship is the cat’s meow
Every word that the WWII veteran uses to describe his newfound friend resonates with pure love. It seems that same fondness is shared by Hank as well, who is constantly by his elderly soldier’s side. The two enjoy spending time together and taking naps in the living room.
“I have a big lazy boy chair,” says Roy. “He sleeps with me all the time when I’m in my chair.”
The two seniors have become the best of friends, and Hank turns out to be a rather gifted cat: he always seems to know how to make Roy’s day brighter.
“My favorite thing about Hank is that 99% of the time when I call him he comes to me,” Roy marvels. “He’s a great listener.”
Shirley confirms that the special needs cat is the official greeter of the house, running to greet visitors at the door. Even more important, she notices real and positive changes in her father.
“Since adopting Hank, dad is more focused,” says Shirley. “Hank tells dad when he’s hungry or needs something. Hank is a real talker.”
Roy laughs, and adds that he wishes he could understand just what the chatty cat is saying when he talks.
“I think Hank understands me more than I understand him,” he observes.
It’s no doubt that the 87 year-old WWII veteran has been part of some amazing events in his lifetime. And while Roy has plenty of room in his heart for his late wife, his children and others he loves, there is no question that a big part of it is taken by a very special senior cat who no one seemed to want…until Roy came along.