SUFFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — It’s not Wednesday at Sentara Obici Hospital in Suffolk if Robert “Jack” Ewald is not there.
The 91-year-old volunteers with joint replacement patients each week.
“I meet a lot of people and I guess I’m a people person,” Ewald said on why he likes to show up.
Ewald has been volunteering there for nearly five years after he was a patient himself.
Tracey Stallard, who is the orthopedic patient navigator, says she asked Ewald if he would volunteer all those years ago.
“He has been with us since the program started,” Stallard said. “Just an inspiration to the patients, just an inspiration to the staff. Just the most kind, gentle, encouraging person. The patients really admire him for coming in.”
They also appreciate him for being a World War II veteran. Ewald says he had just turned 19-years-old when he fought in the Army’s 115th Infantry Division on the Normandy beaches on D-Day.
“You don’t think about that,” he said when asked about how he felt fighting in the historical moment. “All you think about is what’s going to happen. You’re scared. Who wouldn’t be?”
Ewald says he made it through the famous hedgerows of Normandy, but was captured in France after stopping to help a wounded solider. He says the prisoners of war were paraded through the streets of Paris and harassed by citizens before being taken to prisoner camps in Germany.
Ewald says he was able to write his family back in Virginia and still has many of those letters, including some where he told his mother he had gained weight.
“That little weight was a big lie, but I didn’t want my mom to worry about me. I’m sure she probably thought, ‘That rascal is telling me a story,'” he said.
Ewald says his camp was eventually liberated by the Russians, who were going to ship them to the Black Sea. He had other ideas, though, and decided to break out of the camp.
“I took that out of the German file cabinet when the Russians came in, so the Russians wouldn’t know I was there,” he said about the POW record he still has. “If I left my record there, they’d be looking for me.”
Now, Ewald is trying to return back to those same beaches for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in June 2019. His friends are asking for help to raise money for Ewald because the flight may be hard on his body.
“I don’t know if I can stand a coach flight. Those seats on the coach plane, when you fly coach, they’re just like that table after an hour,” he said.
Stallard says they’re trying to raise awareness to help upgrade Ewald’s seat.
“It would be so great if somehow he could get there and make this come full circle for him,” she said.
If you would like to donate to Ewald’s trip, click here.