How One Woman Is Serving Those Who Have Served!
Getting around with canes or prosthetics, or being bound to a wheelchair or an oxygen tank, veterans carry reminders of age and affliction and are automatically drawn to a woman in uniform with a dusty grand piano. Her agile fingers fuel reminiscence in the lobby of the Veterans Administration Hospital in Portland, Oregon.
The dull brown old grand perfectly matches the lusterless Army service uniform of Judy Gascon, who volunteers once in a week, lending her musical talent to the vets, for more than ten years. Her makeup is carefully done in style of Andrews Sisters, a popular singing group during the World War II and she has a warm smile and kind eyes pulling others towards her.
Her father served in Army Air Corps during World War II and is the reason for her volunteering at the hospital. After his death Judy found a bag of letters written by her father during the World War II, making her want to do something for the veterans, and so she does, wearing her father’s corporal insignia and ribbons he earned in the war.
“It’s calming to hear her playing, that too in uniform makes you not so stressed out”, says Lance Mousel who served in Vietnam as a crew of a Naval construction battalion – A Seabee. He was there for optometry appointment and was greeted by Judy with a “Seabee Song” which he hadn’t heard for more than forty-two years.
Another army veteran, Mark Musick, stopped at her piano amidst his appointment related to a hip replacement and asked her to play a British tune “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”. He had served as a military policeman in the 70’s and had an affectionate memory of singing the song with British troops in a training exercise during the mid 70’s. ” You’ve got a lot of veterans that are hurting for one reason or another, and Judy’s presence puts smiles on their faces,” he says. “She’s almost like a saint for us. If you look around the lobby while she’s playing you’ll see it. She makes people smile, and those smiles mean a lot.”
She even has regulars like Navy Veteran Nadine Jensen, who she keeps company for hours, even on days when she didn’t have any appointments at the hospital. “We met in the elevator one day,” says Jensen, “I was curious about her uniform, and we started chatting. After that, I started looking forward to our appointments. We’ve become good friends.”
Like Nadine, who had a major back surgery operation, Judy Gascon also suffers from severe back-pain of her own, perpetuated after being thrown from a horseback years ago. It has become so severe, it made her take some time off the hospital and undergo surgery. But, she made a comeback and once again started playing for veterans every Tuesday.
“Some veterans ride the bus here and just sit in the lobby to hear the music,” Gascon says. “One World War II vet used to come every week for about three years.” Each week she plays the military’s most popular music from 19th to 20th century and anything else, soothing and calming or requested by veterans.
“The people who gather around the piano when I’m here are like a band of brothers. You can really feel it — what this means to them. It takes them back and reminds them of the camaraderie they had in the military. They’re all strangers, but you wouldn’t know it when you see them talking to each other like old friends who go way back.” People she entertains are often surprised to find that she’s not a veteran, but she always discovers a way to connect with them and make them smile anyway.
Moments like these are timeless. A strapping young man asks for a selfie, an Air Force vet from Vietnam parks his wheelchair, applauding every moment he gets, a bearded old timer sits nearby and chats with her between every song.
Thus in a place easily draining the spirit with thoughts of sickness and uncertainty, Judy Gascon became a mascot of brightness, beauty, and hope. Every Tuesday, She’s there serving those who served, rising their spirits!!
You can see for yourself right here:
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