On Saturday, May 14th two veterans who had never met proved the “no soldier left behind” mantra of the armed forces holds true even decades after time spent on the battlefield.
Bert Francoeur finally had the opportunity to meet the fellow veteran, a stranger named Charles Greenwald, who donated his wheelchair van late last year.
Greenwald, who served in the Marines for six years, became a wheelchair user after he was diagnosed with MS in 2003 and was eligible for funding assistance from the Veteran’s Administration to purchase mobility equipment. He met with Roland Grundmann at Ride-Away in East Hartford, Connecticut and made the decision to purchase a 2005 BraunAbility Entervan.
Since then, the wheelchair van has been essential to the quality of life for both Charles and his wife, Rose. “Without the van, life would be so, so difficult,” said Rose. “Sure he has his power chair, but he can’t get down the road with that. The van is what keeps us connected. It helps us keep living life.”
That’s why when he became eligible to trade-in his wheelchair van for a newer model, (he chose a Toyota Rampvan) he made one request to his Ride-Away Mobility Consultant.
“He said, If you know of a fellow veteran who could use this vehicle, I’d like to donate the wheelchair van to a fellow vet…free of charge,'” recounted Grundmann.
For nearly four years, Grundmann had been in contact with Bert Francouer, a decorated WWII veteran who had recently lost both legs due to health problems unrelated to his time spent in service. “Bert didn’t qualify for mobility assistance from the VA, and because of that, he really couldn’t afford a wheelchair van.”
Grundmann made the call to Bert, telling him that a fellow veteran would like to donate a wheelchair van to him. Obviously, Bert was ecstatic. But when he told his daughter, AnneMarie, she tried to convince him it was a hoax. “I thought, how crazy do they think we are? Who would just give away a wheelchair van?'” she laughed. It took more than one phone call and email exchange between Grundmann and AnneMarie before she accepted that this stranger just wanted to make life easier for a fellow veteran facing mobility challenges late in life.
And if any veteran deserved a helping hand, it was certainly Francouer. The 91-year-old has volunteered tirelessly on behalf of the VA hospital in West Haven. For years he organized the volunteer-run transportation department and was Commander of the Connecticut Disabled American Veterans Organization. Bert recently worked with the Knights of Columbus to raise awareness and funding to purchase a wheelchair accessible bus so West Haven VA amputee veterans could travel on group outings.
Last Saturday, Francouer and Greenwald met for the first time in front of the Ride-Away dealership. As the gentlemen shook hands, Francouer’s emotions overcame him for a moment. “I can’t tell you how much this means, sir,” he said.
The pair told stories of their time spent in service and the locations they’d been stationed. Although they’d never met, they shared the same sense of gratitude for their freedom…the freedom they’d both fought for and the freedom that this accessible vehicle had afforded them.
We’re incredibly humbled by this act of generosity by the Greenwald’s and for the tireless volunteer hours Francouer committed to making life easier for his fellow veterans as well. With Memorial Day quickly approaching, we hope you’ll take a moment to thank the veterans you know for their service as well.