Friday, February 6, 2015

Small World Story

An Unexpected Ride with a Relative

Volunteer driver, Louise Mnich
“You just never know who you might meet on a volunteer ride!” says Volunteer Transportation driver Louise Mnich.  She has given many rides since she joined the program’s volunteer force in September 2013 and met many amazing seniors along the way.   But there is one client who stands out above the others.  That person is Virginia Hamilton.

Like Louise, Virginia loves Volunteer Transportation and has had countless memorable rides since she became a client in 2011.  She regularly praises all of the program’s volunteer drivers and often calls them her “angels.”  Yet, the fateful ride that she recently received from Louise was different from all the rest.  In fact, the 96-year-old describes the day Louise took her to Seattle’s PacMed Clinic from her home in Bellevue as one of the best days of her life!

The ride started out like any other, and Virginia could quickly tell that she liked Louise.  They had so much in common; they shared many of the same interests (they even liked the same radio talk show host); and they talked as if they’d known each other for years.  The tone of the conversation changed drastically, though, when Louise recognized some of the names Virginia mentioned.  Louise asked, “Are you related to Larry Hamilton?”

Larry Hamilton was her mother’s cousin.  He survived the Bataan Death March and became a POW at the Cabanatuan Camp, where he was later shipped to Manchuria, China.  He completed manual labor as a Japanese POW in Manchuria for 43 months and lived to tell harrowing tales of survival.  After the war, he spent several weeks with Louise’s grandmother (Larry’s aunt) in LA after being released from a military hospital in San Francisco, and Louise met him much later as a teenager growing up in Southern California.  Larry was a true inspiration to her… and he was also Virginia’s late husband!

“Talk about serendipity!” Louise exclaims as she recounts their conversation.  She and Virginia compared notes about their family (including times that they’d possibly met in the past) and rehashed all of Larry’s war stories.  Virginia was surprised at how much Louise knew about her deceased husband, and she was able to fill in some of the gaps.

Louise writes, “Meeting Larry as a teenager made a lasting impression on me.  He told one touching story about a Japanese doctor at a POW camp in Manchuria.  Larry was seriously ill with spinal meningitis.   At great risk to himself, the Japanese doctor obtained and administered medicine to Larry, which saved his life.”  This real-life parable demonstrated that goodness can be found in all people, even during situations that bring out the worst of them, and it had always stuck with Louise as one of life’s most important lessons.  Virginia was able to update the story: She and Larry later returned to Japan and, remarkably, found that same Japanese doctor!  They were able to throw him a party and thank him for saving Larry’s life.
An image from the Bataan Death March

Louise and Virginia also reflected about Larry’s time in the Bataan Death March.  Virginia described how he was able to stay alive because of the survival skills he’d acquired as a Boy Scout in Arizona, helping him to conserve resources.  Larry’s ordeal had often crossed Louise’s mind.  She explains, “When I was in the Navy, I was stationed in the Philippines and got to see where the last of the American forces fought on Corregidor, the roadways used during the Bataan Death March, and the first Philippine POW camp.  It was moving for me to think I had a relative who lived through all of that.  Unfortunately, Larry died while I was living in the Philippines, so I was never able to share my later experiences with him.”  Spending time with Virginia allowed Louise to explain her own emotional connection to Larry’s arduous journey.

When Virginia reached the clinic, her blood pressure was lower than it has been in years.  “It was because of happiness!” she states.  “Being so happy made me healthier.”

Both Louise and Virginia report that they are thrilled to have found one another, and they are currently working to restore old family ties.  Louise says, “Virginia is an interesting woman in her own right, and I look forward to getting to know her better and learn about her life as well.”

We often use the tagline “Rides change lives,” and this statement rings true for both Louise Mnich and Virginia Hamilton.  A seemingly ordinary trip to the doctor had extraordinary implications for both of them, transforming their lives in a profoundly meaningful way.


About Me

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“Behind the Wheel” offers stories, reflections, news and updates about Sound Generations’ (formerly Senior Services') Transportation Program. Throughout King County, our inspiring volunteers provide needed mobility to local seniors, supporting them in their efforts to remain independent, healthy, and happy. Please drop by to read more about the unique experiences of our volunteers, clients and staff!
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