'We Honor Veterans' - Hospice, Clinton partner in moving vets banner program

·5 min read

Oct. 22—Ronald Bapp was only 17 years old when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968 and was sent to Vietnam.

His classmate Jack Gilfoy recalls that Bapp wanted so much to service his country that he faked his age to get into the military. Bapp died in Vietnam.

When a recent project to honor veterans was proposed to city leaders, Gilfoy — now the mayor of Clinton — made sure to include Bapp among the banners now on display throughout the city.

"He was just a kid, but he did what he thought was the right thing," Gilfoy said of Bapp.

A photo of Bapp, provided by his niece Pam, now hangs near an American flag on a city street pole in Clinton.

"It's amazing," Pam Bapp said about her uncle's banner. She was 5 years old when he died, so she didn't know him well, but she said her family is honored that he was included in the banner project.

Gilfoy is also a veteran, as is City Councilman Dean Strohm, and together they welcomed the We Honor Veterans program supported by Hospice of the Wabash Valley as a way to recognize past and current military service members.

A few weeks ago, Hospice CEO Trudy Rupska and business development director Tracy Rippy contacted Gilfoy and Strohm about the banner project in Clinton.

"We took them a sample banner, and when they actually saw the banner, they were like, 'Wow!'," Rippy said.

The city had 41 poles with banner brackets, so by word of mouth, information was shared about the veteran banners.

Within three days, all 41 spots were filled.

Once the first 41 banners were hanged, more requests for banners came pouring in. Another 50 applications for banners were submitted during the next week.

Brackets were needed, however, so Strohm contacted the Wabash Valley Community Foundation, which provided funding for more brackets. A Tri Kappa group also provided a $500 donation to the project, and other corporate sponsors are coming on board, Rippy said.

The brackets are $98 each, so the American Legion in Clinton provided $1,000 for the project, as well.

Each banner costs $80, which is paid by the veterans family or friends, and the 5-foot long tributes are being printed by Ace Sign and Awning in Terre Haute.

"I live in Clinton, and I can tell you the comments and the sense of pride people have with these banners is overwhelming. It's so meaningful in a small town," Rippy said.

In fact, Rockville leaders have contacted Hospice of the Wabash Valley about getting the banner project going there. And hospice also hopes to add banners on street poles in Brazil, Sullivan and West Terre Haute, she said.

Hospice of the Wabash Valley serves five counties.

Any leftover proceeds from having the banners made goes into the We Honor Veterans program, which is a program of the Department of Veterans' Affairs and the National Hospice and Palliative Care organization.

Hospice of the Wabash Valley has reached Level 5 recognition of the national awareness and action campaign, which promotes stronger partnerships between hospices and VA facilities.

Rupska said her organization reached Level 1 in November 2013 by training its staff and volunteers about the needs of veterans and by identifying patients with military experience.

In Level 2, Hospice began performing "Veteran Pinning Ceremonies" to publicly acknowledge the military service and sacrifices made by veterans and their families.

By February 2020, Hospice had reached Level 5 with staff placing a greater emphasis on caring for Vietnam era and combat veterans.

In Indiana, 104 hospices provide the We Honor Veterans program, but Hospice of the Wabash Valley is one of only seven to achieve Level 5.

"We have a lot of support in the community for this program," Rupska said.

A sewing group at First Baptist Church creates patriotic quilts to present to veterans and their families in a respectful ceremony that honors the veterans.

She estimates more than 300 ceremonies have been conducted, with pins and certificate presented.

"The families find it very meaningful," Rupska said.

Rippy said veteran volunteers are also being recruited to meet with and talk to veterans in hospice.

Hospice also sponsors the Vet2Vet Coffee and Chat on the first Monday of each month at 1200 Poplar St. Only veterans attend.

The veteran banners will remain up in Clinton through Veterans Day in November, when they they will be taken down and stored until Memorial Day.

The banners will be hung again in the spring and remain up all summer, said Strohm, who has been a Clinton city council member for 40 years. The success of the banner program has exceeded all expectations, he said.

For several years, Strohm has been in charge of the American flag project that has placed 229 flags on utility poles around the city, with the support of the Lions Club and city fire department.

"This project means a lot to people when they see their veteran, their loved one, on a banner," Strohm said.

Pam Bapp agrees. She lived around the corner from her uncle's banner.

Ronald was one of 17 children, the youngest boy, in his family. His sister Gloria, who lives in northern Indiana, made a special trip to Clinton to see the banner, Pam Bapp said.

"We're all amazed about it, that he's up there," she said.

Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or at lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter at TribStarLisa.

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