Association of Family Practice PAs & NPs

Life Savers Then….Caregivers Now

Posted 4 months ago by Dane Pratt

Life Savers Then….Caregivers Now


Ken Harbert, PhD, MCHES, PA-Emeritus, DFAAPA

The late seventies and the early 1980’s saw a number of veterans begin to focus on the priorities of the nation as they pertained to Vietnam Veterans. Many organizations began to take shape.

I had the great fortunate In 1978 to meet some of the early members of the Council of Vietnam Veterans such as Rusty Lindley and Rick Weidman (who later formed the first chapter of the future Vietnam Veterans of America) and other actively involved veterans like George Skypeck, Bobby Muller, Mike McWalters, Mary Stout, Lynda Van Devanter, Dave Gorman, Jack Smith and John Terzano.  Bobby Muller , Rick Weidman and John Teranzo worked together and later assisted in creating the Vietnam Veterans of America which was recognized by congressional charter in 1986.

One of my students Michelle Minion, PA-C and I provided health care to the many Vietnam veterans who were part of the “Vietnam Veteran Vigil” at the site where they were building the monument. This group of vets from around the country lived in a trailer along the future site to make sure no one caused any trouble.

This was a very active time for Vietnam veterans in Washington, DC and I actively got involved with many of the traditional and non-traditional veteran organizations.  My friend Dave Dechant was on the Vietnam Veteran Memorial Fund and introduced me to Jan Scruggs and Bob Doubek and others who were working on the memorial. Dave and I would often visit the memorial site as they were building it. Groundbreaking took place and I joined Booby Muller, John Terzano, Gary Logan, Rick Weidman, Dave Dechant, Lynda Van Devanter and many others at the future site. The memorial was dedicated in 1982 and we had a parade thru Washington that was one of the first to “Welcome Vietnam Veterans”. As I walked thru the massive crowd I was amazed to meet some old friends from Pittsburgh, and Sand Diego and even ran into Alan Sams, PA-C who flew all the way from Atlanta to join the dedication.  

My friends Lynda Van Devanter, RN and Diane Carlson Evans, RN got me involved with the proposed Vietnam Women’s Memorial. Later, I was appointed to the foundations advisory panel so that PA’S could be represented. This beautiful bronze statue was created and commissioned by Glenna Goodacre and finally dedicated in 1993.

In 1979 I developed a panel discussion and a CME at Greater Southeast Community Hospital in Washington, DC entitled “Forgotten but not gone the Vietnam Era Veteran”.  During this time I was a PA working with a psychologist on a group therapy program entitled “Back in the World” a closed systemic behavioral program for Vietnam Veterans and their  significant others.

Our profession struggled with recognizing and honoring corpsman and medic’s that had served in Vietnam. So after the work I was involved in with other groups I brought in art work of George Skypeck”s  to allow those who served an opportunity to see the war thru the eyes of someone who served there and allowed his art to tell the story many could not tell. Later, I organized a program at the AAPA national conference and the Veterans Special Interest Committee began. The people joining me in making all this happen as the Veterans Special Interest Committee (later to become the Veteran Caucus) included: Lonnie Holmes, Doug Conduit, CWO4 Rick Hillegas, Mike Doyle, Capt.Tom Lemley, Richard Currey, Shep Stone, Capt. Larry Russell, Steve Turnipseed, CWO4 John Tissot, Alan Sams and  CWO4 Tom Clayton,  which in 1985 was officially recognized by the AAPA and then joined by Randy Danielsen.

All these folks joined together and made focus simple that we would form a consensus to assist veterans.  That we could develop an awareness about the contributions that Vietnam Veterans made to both the military and civilian health care system, and that we could establish a liaison with other veteran organizations, legislators, military leaders and others involved in veteran affairs, and to actively encourage veterans in the pursuit of  our profession as a Physician Assistant through scholarships and knowledge about our role I health care.

I used a poem I had written as our motto “ Life Savers Then…. Caregivers Now © and it still is used today. This poem was written about all the veterans I had met thru the times I was involved with veteran groups and the most importantly the incredible hero’s I encountered thru our profession. Later on George Skypeck used this motto to create a painting to represent corpsman and medics in Vietnam which was commissioned by Coors Corporation. Today the motto is prominent on the statue commissioned by Don Pedersen at the Stead Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Life Savers Then….Caregivers Now@

It was night filled of hero stars

Bronze, silver, gold –stars

That lit up the room

Visions – past, present and soon to be future

Walking among warriors new and old

Some in uniform

Some seeing themselves in uniforms of old

Ghostly memories joined them all

Friends, comrades, soul mates filled the screen


There he stands in army green

Once a gentle giant medic

Lugging this comrades on his shoulders

Far above the erupting ground of death

Doing his best under the worst of conditions

Trying, wishing, with all he had

That he could have known more –might have been more

At times all he could offer was himself

Presence, pressure, patience, promises and prayers

But when it came time save those under his care

He never gave up and gave his all and more


A navy corpsman stands silently

Wearing his old caduceus shining brightly now

Worn bronze from age, but never really forgotten

Once he was shrouded in Marine Corps green

Corpsman up, rising to meet the call,

Giving the kiss of the angels

Offering lifesaving breaths while whispering words of comfort

Often resting his head on his Marines chest

Listening for sounds of life, whispering words of hope,

While bullets seem to float by, and sounds of death surrounded him

Memories of offering his body, and at times, his soul as protection for his Marines

For they say him as confessor, father, brother, savior, and protector from harm


Gray haired and older than dirt

An Air Force PJ, quietly taking it all in,

Once adored in jolly jungle green

Trained to do what most others only dream about

Water, mountains, ice and jungle- living for them all

Offering themselves up to their motto “That Other May Live”

Offering service above all else including himself

Not fearing what other mortals dread

But rather trained and living for the odds

Prepared for the worst yet always planning and preparing for the life-saving best outcome


So here they are

Life Savers, confessors of the living and comforters of the dying

Putting themselves in harm’s way

Offering hope with morphine to ease the pain

Saying silent prayers to a higher power for one last save


So here they are now

Physician Assistants all

Older yet wiser, second to none

Offering care giving, heart saving, life making

With the respect and knowledge that only those

Who have lived among the thousand-yard stares can ever understand

They work for the living, yet they dream of the dead

They accept, appreciate and understand the preciousness of life

Knowing more than most about that secret of life

Its true meaning, nanosecond by nanosecond

Liking forever past with present

Preserving forever the compassion and passion of lessons learned in the forgotten fogs of war

For they are now and forever will be our

Lifesavers then….Caregivers Now©