University of Delaware students help a WWII veteran

University of Delaware students help a WWII veteran


Naval Medical Center San Diego

Lance Cpl. Eric Rodriguez, a patient at Wounded Warrior Battalion West, Naval Medical Center San Diego, learned to surf at Del Mar Beach in Southern California. The lesson was part of a recreational therapy class coordinated by the Balboa Warrior Athlete program. The program helps wounded, ill and injured service members improve their level of function and mobility through exercise and recreational activities.//U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason J. Perry


At BADER, our priority is and always will ultimately lie with our soldiers and veterans who live with musculoskeletal challenges.

But we also like to hear about other ways our veterans are being served.

While BADER is a national consortium of researchers and affiliates throughout the country, its home base is at the University of Delaware, in the small city of Newark (unlike the city in New Jersey, the town is pronounced “New Ark”).

Delaware is tiny;  there are fewer than 1 million people in the state, which is only 96 miles long and 35 miles across at its widest point. Sometimes, Delaware is more like a big small town. People look after people and everyone seems to know everyone. Forget six degrees of separation; here, it’s more like two.

So it makes sense that, in 2009, a nursing student at the University of Delaware decided to create an organization intended to look after people in Newark too sick to fully look after themselves.

It was inspired by her own experience.

Sarah LaFave was a freshman in high school when her mother succumbed to breast cancer. Sarah saw the toll her mother’s illness took on the family, though they had tremendous support from other family and friends, and how difficult it could be to manage even the simplest of daily tasks.

So she created Lori’s Hands, a group of volunteer men and women from UD who work with patients living with cancer and chronic disease. The students visit homes, grocery shop, mow lawns and complete other tasks at the request of the people they assist.

Recently, the group made a video to reflect what they do. It’s grown to become so much more. In the video, you meet Edna and Warren Watts.

Warren is a WWII veteran in his late 80s. He lives with diabetes and two different cancers. When Warren started falling, Edna stopped feeling comfortable bringing him out of the house, making activities like grocery shopping a challenge.

Lori’s Hands has been a tremendous help to the Edna and Warren. Edna says she doesn’t know how they would manage without their small group of student volunteers, who have become like grandchildren to the couple.

For the Watts, having a group like Lori’s Hands by Warren’s side during this phase of his life has been key.

Warren served in the Army and if you spend time with him, he will tell you about his entrée to the war in January 1945.

He was one of several hundred soldiers who packed onto a train from Le Havre, France at the start of the last year of the war. It was destined for a depot at the end of the line at Saint Valery-en-Caux, Normandy, 5 kilometers from Camp Lucky Strike.

From accounts told by other veterans on the train that day, and from Warren himself, as the 45-car train neared the depot on January 17, it picked up speed. Accounts say investigations later showed the breaks failed and over the course of a 6-mile descent to the station, the train traveled faster and faster.

Meanwhile, soldiers sat in packed rail cars like sardines sandwiched into cans. Some dangled their legs from cars, taking in fresh air as they traveled over the French countryside. Others stayed in their cars, unable to open the doors, getting some rest or eating their rations. Warren remembers sharing food with a fellow soldier.

At approximately 10:32 am, the train barreled into the empty station at the cul-de-sac of the route, stacking rail cars on top of rail cars. Nearly 100 died that day; more than 150 were injured. Many lost limbs.

World War II train crash

Station at Saint Valery-en-Caux

Warren was among the wounded soldiers. He can recall the sights and sounds of the day. He can remember vividly comrades he was never to see again. He was prohibited from writing home, to let his family know about the crash and that he was safe, because, he said, the U.S. military didn’t acknowledge the accident happened. He tried instead to let them know in code.

The war would end before the year was complete.

For more reading on the incident, visit here and here.

To learn more about Lori’s Hands, visit their website or their Facebook page.