Once Military, Always Military: Vets Continue Camaraderie in Retirement

By Katie Lange
Defense Media Activity

Military life often sticks with you long after your service ends, so for the veterans who get to live at an Armed Forces Retirement Home, their situation is a blessing – they have lots to do, get good care and can continue sharing camaraderie with others who served.

Ahead of Veterans Day this year, I thought I’d swing by the one in Washington, D.C., to chat with some of its residents.

An Armed Forces Retirement Home?

First off, if you didn’t know there was an Armed Forces Retirement Home, there are actually two. There’s the D.C. campus, and one in Gulfport, Mississippi. Both have been around for a really long time. You can find out more about their interesting history here.

FIFTY CENTS

Each month, every enlisted service member gives a mere 50 cents, taken as an allotment, to the home to enrich the golden years of the nation's veterans.More:http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/ftrStory.asp?issue=3&id=103283https://www.afrh.gov/

Posted by All Hands Magazine on Friday, November 10, 2017

When I first got to the D.C. campus, I was introduced to a table of vets who were eating breakfast. They didn’t mind me interrupting, and they weren’t shy – making jokes and picking on each other the same way rowdy service members do now.

“You’re new here, but you’re not new,” 89-year-old Helen Sadowski said to a new resident sitting near her.

The jokes continued for a bit, but then one by one, they all got up to get on with their days. I shadowed a few of them, and they all had some fun stories to tell.

Ken Faller: Submariner Turned Woodworker

First, I went with Navy veteran Ken Faller to the woodshop. Yes, there’s a woodshop at the home, right next to the bowling alley. Trust me when I say there’s plenty to do.

Faller’s been at the home for nine years, so he’s what you could call a “veteran veteran.”

Inside his woodshop, there was a heavy scent of wood shavings. Drills and saws sat idle, while several unfinished chairs waited to be worked on. Frank Sinatra played in the background as Faller began staining one of them. He told me a little bit about the active-duty sailors who occasionally come to visit.

Navy veteran Ken Faller. All Hands photo

“Every year, we have a lot of new crew chiefs come over, and we haze them a little bit,” he joked. “It’s nice to see them. They’re so young! I don’t ever remember being that young.”

Faller joined the Navy in 1959 and served for 23 years, mostly as a submariner. He was shipped to Vietnam twice in that time. In 1978, he was one of only three Navy chiefs to have been able to attend the U.S. Army Sergeants Major Academy, which helps develop enlisted leaders. He retired as a master chief in 1983, still loving everything about his profession.

“I had so many good moments, I just can’t pick out one and say, ‘That’s it,’” Faller said. “My naval career as a whole I cherished.”

When it comes to Veterans Day, his best memory is from 2011.

“I was part of a four-person group that went over to Chelsea in England. It was Remembrance Day there, so we celebrated Remembrance Day and Veterans Day at the same time. It was very neat,” he said of the British holiday that’s equivalent to our Memorial Day.

Each year on Nov. 11, he attends Veterans Day ceremonies and occasionally visits Arlington National Cemetery.

“It’s meaningful to many people. … I had a few buddies that were fallen in Vietnam. I remember them. Then there’s just the people you met over 20 plus years and you lost contact – you think about them on that day,” he said.

Sheldon Shorthouse: The ‘Mayor’ of the Home

When I left Faller, I made a pit stop at the home’s bar, the Defender’s Inn – not for a drink, but to chat with 63-year-old Army veteran Sheldon Shorthouse, who runs the bar.

Shorthouse might be the busiest man at the home. He’s only been there for two years but he’s already won the elected position of Resident Advisory Committee chairman, which pretty much means he’s the mayor. Or at least, that’s what he told former President Barack Obama during a visit last year.

“I went through the chow line and introduced myself to him. I figured he wouldn’t know what a RAC chairman was, but he does know what a mayor is, so I just told him I was the elected mayor,” Shorthouse explained.

When Obama was leaving, Shorthouse decided to jump in line to shake the president’s hand one more time.

“He just looked at me,” the vet said. “He stopped, called for his photographer to come over, puts his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘I want my picture with the mayor!’”

President Barack Obama gets a photo with Army veteran Sheldon Shorthouse at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Washington, D.C., Nov. 23, 2016. Official White House photo by Pete Souza

Shorthouse joined the Army in 1974, just after the Vietnam War draft ended. He was a military police officer and was stationed all over during his 20 years of service, including in Holland, where he learned all about various cultures through his British and German counterparts. He said what he cherished most about his military service are the friends he made.

“I still maintain one contact with a gentleman who was the best man at my wedding in Holland. He was a security policeman in the Air Force,” he said.

Helen Sadowski: Paving the Way for Women

For New Jersey native Helen Sadowski, the 20 years she spent in the Navy were the “best thing she did.” The service got her out of her small town and led to some amazing experiences.

Helen joined in 1952, a few years after women were allowed to enlist outside of war time. Her career took her to California’s Treasure Island — where she ate the same meals as court-martialed prisoners – then to her favorite duty station, Pearl Harbor.

“Hawaii wasn’t a state yet. It was real pristine at that time,” the 89-year-old said. She got to see many of the memorials that had been erected since the 1941 Japanese attacks. “You could see the shadows and the bubbles coming up [from the USS Arizona]. It was really very moving.”

Navy veteran Helen Sadowski. DoD photo by Katie Lange

Nowadays, she spends her time volunteering at the home and hanging with fellow residents.

I left Sadowski and the home as the residents were gearing up for an Oktoberfest party that afternoon.

“Are you coming?” they all wanted to know.

My answer was an unfortunate no – I had to get going. But after all of their years of military service, I was very happy to see they were living it up in retirement!

Read more about the Armed Forces Retirement Home here

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