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by Polly Carver-Kimm
If the so-called “greatest generation” had an Iowa ambassador, it might very well be Jake Dailey of Mount Ayr. Nearly his entire life has been dedicated to service, first to his country and then his community.
Donald “Jake” Dailey was born in 1921, with five older siblings and five younger ones. “I was born on a farm outside Mount Ayr. My father always said he was ‘broke in ‘28 and starved out in ‘31’ and so we moved into town,” says Jake, who graduated from Mount Ayr High School in 1940. On July 17, 1942, he entered active service with the U.S. Navy during WWII. He completed basic training and learned medical corpsmen duties at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center in Illinois. He spent his first year of service caring for wounded soldiers at the Brooklyn Naval Hospital in New York.
“I had three brothers in the military – two in the Army and one in the Navy,” says Jake, who remembers crossing paths with them while all were serving in the war. “I saw my Army brothers once in New York and I saw my Navy brother in New York in 1943 and [later that year] in Los Angeles before I went overseas.”
In 1944, Jake’s service took him to the South Pacific, where he was a surgical technician at exotic locations like Fiji, Espiritu Santo, Russell Islands, Milne Bay, New Guinea, New Caledonia, Los Negros and Manus in the Admiralty Islands. He crossed the International Date Line and the equator.
Jake assisted in surgical operations, typically performed in a tent with a Coleman lantern on the sand floor. He says he did everything but the “cutting” in those surgeries, although he did stitch people up afterward. He was also on duty with the Construction Battalion, stringing up lights in tents, rebuilding airstrips after bombings and creating makeshift hospitals. Additionally, his service included time with the Marines and the Army Dismounted Cavalry.
In the summer of 1945, Jake was home on leave from the South Pacific when the atomic bomb was dropped in Japan. On August 14, he was on a train from Mount Ayr to San Diego to report for duty when news spread quickly that Japan had surrendered and the war was over. “We were very happy and thankful because people like me in the medical corps and my brother that was home from Europe, we knew we were headed for Japan. Millions of GIs who would have gone to invade Japan were saved. If there was any adult beverage around, well, we partook of some of that!”
When Jake was discharged on December 30, 1945, his rank was E6, Corpsman First Class.
On April 4, 1951, Jake was called back to duty to provide support during the Korean War at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center where he completed basic training 30 years prior as a 21-year-old. On the weekends, he would take an eight-hour train trip back to Iowa, spend 17 hours at home and then take the eight-hour trip back. He was discharged in May of 1952.
Jake’s legacy of service didn’t end there.
When Jake’s wife Geraldine passed away in EveryStep (then HCI Care Services of Iowa) hospice care, he was moved by the great work the volunteers did with her. “The hospice people are so good. My wife had cancer and passed away in ’09. We kept her in our home until she passed away. I could name all the different people that were good to my wife, but everybody in hospice is great. That’s the reason that I volunteered.”
In 2010, with the same dedication and vigor he showed during WWII and the Korean War, he enlisted as a volunteer with the EveryStep Mount Ayr Hospice team. Through EveryStep’s Veteran-to-Veteran program, he provides companionship to veterans in hospice. He honors other veterans by participating in veteran “pinning” ceremonies.
EveryStep’s veteran pinning ceremonies provide honor, dignity and recognition to veterans at the end of their lives. Family members and friends are often on hand with EveryStep staff and volunteers during the celebratory events, which include the Pledge of Allegiance, the awarding of a veteran service flag pin, the singing of “God Bless America,” a reading of “What is a Veteran,” and the presentation of a certificate of recognition.
To date, Jake has provided special pinning and recognition ceremonies in eight southern Iowa counties to 125 veterans receiving EveryStep Hospice care and services. “It’s amazing the reactions they have,” says Jake. “I get more out of volunteering than I have put in.”
On November 25, Thanksgiving Day, Jake will celebrate his 100th birthday. He plans to continue volunteering.
EveryStep is a nonprofit health care organization and a Level 4 partner in the nationally recognized We Honor Veterans initiative. Through its hospice program, EveryStep offers a number of specialized services for veterans. EveryStep’s Veteran-to-Veteran program is a special service pairing veterans who are volunteers with hospice patients who have served our country. A specialized Veteran-to-Veteran volunteer can provide companionship while talking, reading and sitting with patients. Veterans bring a unique skill set to help patients find peace at the end of life.