United States Navy veteran Diane Smith grew up in the military. Her father was an aeronautical engineer in the Air Force, so she spent most of her childhood moving across the country.
“As military kids, you get used to making new friends fast and then saying goodbye a lot and repeating it in the next place,” Diane said.
Transferring schools as a kid would be far from the only sacrifice Diane would go on to make for her beloved country. Beginning in 1971, she served 15 years in the Navy — working as a hospital corpsman, psychiatric technician, and a drug and alcohol counselor — travelling from the Philippines, to Japan, and Scotland.
When her service ended, Diane found herself unsure of where to go next. She volunteered as a drug and alcohol counselor at a local school for some time, before using her G.I. Bill to get her master’s degree. But it was Diane’s job with the U.S. Department of Defense that brought her to Palmer, Alaska — the place she now proudly calls home.
“I just really liked the area,” Diane said. “I really like the mountains and the ocean, and I had some family up here, so it seemed like a natural fit.”
The decision to move to Palmer, made initially for convenience, turned into a life-altering decision in summer 2020. Though she had heard of the local Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home, she had no idea it was the only veterans home in the state … which made it all the more serendipitous that Diane had chosen to live in this town.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Diane was able to live alone with the help of frequent visits from her niece. But as the threat of illness grew, and her niece’s job put her at high risk for contracting the virus, Diane had to try to make do on her own.
“I ended up coming to the veterans home because I had medical problems that were making it untenable for me to stay by myself,” Diane said.
“I was pretty medically vulnerable … so if anything happened to me, it would be a while before someone figured it out. So, I decided I needed to get into a situation where I could have some help.”
In addition to her safety, Diane gained camaraderie, enrichment, and opportunities at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home that she never would have experienced on her own.
“One of the things it gave me was a lot less isolation,” Diane said. “There were people and activities, and on top of that, it also provided me with an opportunity to be useful.”
Diane has seen many fellow residents receive the same support she has been afforded. One of the most moving events since her arrival at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home was a gift of outdoor furniture from the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Alaska. The department received a grant from the American Legion Auxiliary Foundation to purchase the furniture, which ultimately made safe, comfortable, and socially distanced outdoor visits a reality at the home during the height of the pandemic.
“It was really hard for a lot of people, particularly those who were memory impaired, to tolerate a lockdown for a whole year,” Diane said. “The good part was that we had zero COVID cases among the residents here; it was an extraordinary effort.
“To sit outside with your family in some nice furniture is a real morale booster for a lot of people. They feel like they have somewhere to host the people they love in their life who come to see them.”
Diane and her friends at the Alaska Veterans and Pioneer Home are just a few of the Faces Behind the Funds — the heroes who are supported all around the nation due to your generous gifts on #GivingTuesday. Help more heroes with a gift today: donate.legion-aux.org/GivingTuesday.