Blog Writer, Lt. Col. David Benhoff, USMC (ret.), is Director of Capital Caring’s Veterans Affairs Program
Vietnam Veteran. Army Ranger. Tunnel Rat.
Three Bronze Stars. Vietnam Gallantry Cross.
He considered himself an American, but his country did not.
Werner Trei, an American hero, had one final wish before his Final Deployment. American Citizenship.
In his own words, “It would mean the world to me.”
Wow. Think about that. I mean really think about that. Quite literally, his final wish. I fear that many of the younger generation in our country couldn’t begin to come close to appreciating this. But I digress.
Hopefully I’ve captured your attention with that somewhat less-than-conventional lead and you’ll indulge me in a little background—and update.
Werner Trei, now 71 and in ill health, was a German immigrant at the age of 2. So if I’ve done my math correctly, (hopefully I paid close enough attention in “Math for Marines”) that means he left Germany around 1950. Only five years after the end of WWII. If anyone would have an understanding of freedom and appreciation for freedom, it would likely be someone whose family came from a country just freed from the devastation of a fascist government.
Perhaps this is why, upon receiving his draft notice after graduation from high school here in the United States, he didn’t even ponder using his lack of citizenship as an excuse to not serve. He saw it his duty. Think about that as well—especially given less than 1 percent of the population today is willing to serve.
But despite his service, and attempting to gain citizenship over the years since, he had been unsuccessful. As luck (or Providence, maybe) would have it, that would not be the end of the story.
Enter Carrie Sladek, of the Peaks Care Center in Longmont, Colorado. She began helping him in pursuit of this most noble dying wish—to include helping him study for the citizenship test.
However, there was great concern—given his failing health—that he would not live to see that day. At some point, the press picked up this story, which is how I became aware. And rather than go into more detail—which I think would just take away from the story and add nothing—let me just insert an e-mail Carrie sent on May 17, 2019, at the end of this quest:
“I want to thank you for reaching out to me and my Veteran. The USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) came in a couple hours ago and did his Naturalization.
My Veteran is so very happy and we Thank Everyone for all they did. I am proud of the response that our nation came together, sending letters and calling representatives, congressman, and senators. The People made this lifelong dream happen for one of our Veterans.”
So what’s the moral of this story?
On the grand scale, freedom isn’t free. And freedom isn’t forever.
As Thomas Jefferson eloquently stated, “The Price of Freedom is Eternal Vigilance.”
We need to not forget the principles upon which our nation was born. And we need Americans willing to take up arms to defend these principles. I don’t know about you, but less than 1 percent doing so is a shocking statistic. Werner was willing, despite not even having the benefits of citizenship—until his final hours.
On the personal level, the moral is just as Carrie exemplified in her email, “…the people made his lifelong dream happen for one of our veterans.”
As our veterans age and find themselves in need, we need to step up—as they stepped up for us. The need is overwhelming, and mostly unknown.
Get involved. Whether that be volunteering and spending time with a veteran patient, “adopting” a veteran neighbor and getting him or her to medical appointments, or helping a veteran navigate the confusing array of possible benefits that might be of help. There are endless ways to help.
You will be paid back several fold what you put into the endeavor you pursue just knowing you helped someone in need. As the poet John Holmes said, “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up.”
Learn more about Capital Caring’s Veteran’s Impact Program here.
Note from Editor: Some information and quotes were included in the following news article :