An intrinsic part of military service is the concept of never being alone or left behind. In the US Army, soldiers are paired with another soldier (adorably named: Battle Buddies) and they are de facto inseparable from that moment on. For Army veteran Dan Ottomeyer, this concept should extend into the civilian world, especially for veterans who are dying.
According to a report from Aljazeera America, during the “past 25 years, Ottomeyer has volunteered in hospice centers in Michigan (where he has lived in Ann Arbor since 2007), North Carolina, and Idaho” where he stands watch over his dying brothers- and sisters-in-arms. Ottomeyer is quoted saying, “I don’t think any veteran should die alone.”
On Wednesday night at the Pittsburgh Penguins “Military Appreciation Game,” World War II veteran and survivor of Pearl Harbor Jack Gaiser was given a standing ovation by the crowd and the fans would cheer each time he was shown on the jumbotron. With hundreds of veterans in attendance that night, he was the star because he is a veteran of WW II, a group of veterans dying at a rate of 600 per day.
It is precisely these veterans who Ottomeyer spends most of his time with, hearing their stories. While many of them are incredible tales of loss and of courage, some are stories that are indicative that these men are still suffering from “survivor’s guilt” even in the twilight of their lives. “These people are a treasure,” Ottomeyer told Al Jazeera, “and we let them slip away quietly. It breaks my heart.” Ottomeyer served in the Army as an officer and was part of the Ranger detachment that was sent to Jonestown in Guyana.