FORT JACKSON, S.C. -- Fort Jackson Soldiers volunteered a few hours of their time for those who have sacrificed a lifetime.

Tuesday, cadre of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment visited veterans of wars past, showing them appreciation and that their patriotism is far from forgotten.

"Veterans give us a window to the past," said Lt. Col. Bryan Hernandez, 3-34th commander. "By spending time with them we provide them a reminder that they are cherished by all those in uniform, and they pass to us a legacy rich in history and tradition, to remember how great our country is."

The 3-34th Soldiers traveled to downtown Columbia to the E. Roy Stone Veterans Pavilion, a nursing care facility built specifically to serve South Carolina veterans, to engage in conversation and play a few games of bingo with the seasoned veterans, some who had fought as long ago as during World War II and as recently as during the Vietnam War. Approximately 70 veterans reside at the facility.

"Their smiles and genuine happiness to see us at the ... home made us feel very welcomed," Hernandez said. "They wanted us there and we wanted to be there sharing good quality time with them."

Carl Hardy, who was at the Pavilion visiting his wife's stepfather, Thaddeus Benton, an 85-year-old Army veteran who served in Africa during World War II and boasts of a 20-year career, said he was extremely pleased to see the 3-34th Soldiers visiting.

"It's good for (the residents)," Hardy said. "It boosts their morale. They're used to doing the same ol', same ol' seven days a week. (Someone) visiting with them makes them feel better. They're happy."

Eric Jones, the activity therapy supervisor, who has been working for the home for eight years, said the residents do get visitors from different Veterans of Foreign Wars groups a couple of times a month, and sometimes children visit to put on performances, but he said the residents would always like to see more people, more often.

"We want people to come as much as possible," Jones said. "It makes (the residents) feel like they're still a part of the community, and it's good for them to see new, fresh faces. You can come to a place like this and see four walls and only your caregivers; it leaves you stagnated. It's always good to get a breath of fresh air."

Jones said having the residents see Soldiers in uniform is especially good for their visual, audio and sensory stimulation; it also helps them recall things they haven't remembered in years.
"When they see those uniforms, they go back in time and remember when they had to wear fatigues and went through basic training."

Capt. Loni Ayers, commander of Company E, 3-34th, said visiting the veterans not only honors them, but it also gives younger Soldiers an opportunity to learn from them.

"I've heard plenty of what some would call war stories," Ayers said. "To (these veterans), they are life stories. The (veterans) are very proud of their branches, jobs and service in general - as they should be. They paved the way for us and have so many lessons-learned to share. Anything we can learn from these ladies and gentlemen will only strengthen us as well-rounded Soldiers."

Capt. Nyasanu Person, personnel officer for the battalion, said the most significant thing he learned from talking to the veterans was that one day he may be in the same position as the veterans.

"And I hope and pray that I will have someone that cares enough to spend time with me," Person said.
"Today was not a tasking for me," he continued. "It was something that I really wanted to do, and it will be something that I will continue to do in the future."

The visit was the first but certainly not the last for Hernandez and his Soldiers, who are "adopting" the veterans and plan to visit them every other week. Hernandez said he wants to ensure his officers and noncommissioned officers have many opportunities to visit throughout the year, "to meet this group of great Americans."