Down a dusty street and around a corner almost at the end of the street, a retired Navy submariner almost didn’t surface. The facts are few and there appears to be a happy ending very soon.
The American Legion Post #2, in Guatemala, was brought into the picture by the American Embassy a couple of months ago. Mr. ‘C’, by last December, was several months behind in his rent. His landlady, who lives in Guatemala City and about an hour away, decided to drive over to Jocotenango, one of Antigua’s suburbs and see for herself what the problem was.
Once inside the dark and less than clean apartment it was apparent that Mr. ‘C’ hadn’t been eating for a long time. What was once a robust ex-Navy Corpsman was now a skeletal shell of a man, nearly blind and so deaf that he listens to the television set six inches away. Once back in the City, she contacted the US Embassy and explained the situation of her nearly dead tenant. The Embassy, with no mandate or mechanisms of their own to perform rescue missions, then contacted their special resource in Guatemala. ‘Could they take a look and determine what was needed?’
That would have been fine except that the landlady didn’t leave Mr. ‘C’s address with the Embassy and tracking her down wasn’t easy. Eventually contact was made, along with a home visit by the Adjutant of the post, William J. Shetz. ‘Appalling’ might be an apt word, because that’s what I felt yesterday, when I saw it but that’s been dealt with by he and a few other members of this very active and service-oriented post. His faded passport states that he’s 75: in person, you’d think that he’s 85.
Over the last 17 years there have been fifteen of these rescue missions: five were veterans and the rest unlucky travelers stranded or wounded by circumstance in Guatemala. The American Legion Post#2 doesn’t receive any remuneration, recognition or accolades for these outreach missions. The US Embassy knows that they can count on Mr. Shetz and his dedicated cadre of members to drive (at their own expense) from one end of Guatemala to the other and salvage a wounded warrior or two.
Today, as he has for the last few months, Mr.’C’ had his meals brought to him by the Post. It was a dish of Bavarian ‘Rosti’, potato pancakes with two eggs on top, which has become a favorite. It always arrives hot, straight from the German restaurant beside the AL Library. The other days might see the arrival of a jar of peanut butter, good for two days. Yesterday his apartment was cleaned by another post member, with two maids to handle the mops and brooms. Mr. ‘C’ will be going back to the States in about ten days, in a wheelchair and personally accompanied by William Shetz. His family and the VA will take it from there.
How did this happen? It is known that Mr.’C’ emigrated to Guatemala about seven years ago, from Chapala in Mexico, driving his large Dodge pickup and accompanied by a trailer of personal belongings. Why he chose to live in a remote section of a grimy suburb, away from stores and contact with other ex-patriates is unknown. What is suspected is that he became rapidly blind from glaucoma, besides a near total hearing loss, both of which made him totally dependent on a maid whose concerns appear to have been more self-serving. He might have had e-mail but his computer was stolen, so if he was in contact, that loss plus his blindness effectively ended any outside communications. His Social Security account has been re-established, thanks to the Post and at least one of his four children will see to his immediate needs. The Post’s emergency fund, depleted by the unpaid back rent, electric and water bills, will be reimbursed eventually.
If you or a relative are considering visiting or moving to Guatemala, register with the US Embassy here. If something bad happens, they will at least have your contact information. The local American Post #2, Department of Mexico will take care of the rest. They’re better than AAA or ‘roadside assistance ‘plans: who else will bring you Bavarian-style potato pancakes or peanut butter? A special note of thanks to Tom Martin, Jackson Underwood and Ed Clark, Jr. They stepped up without being asked, to help someone they didn't know.