A Son’s Loving Veterans’ Day Tribute at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery
Every day when Tom Gaylets arrives at work, he’s greeted by his hero. The American flag that flies outside Einstein Medical Center Montgomery, where Gaylets is an executive, belonged to his father, a Korean War POW who died three years ago.
“It feels like he’s there,” Gaylets said.
Gaylets’ father, Thomas B. Gaylets, devoted his life after Korea to patriotic pursuits, including giving away large American flags. He bought hundreds of them at his own expense over the years, and kept them in the trunk of his car. If he happened to drive past a flag that was tattered or otherwise damaged, he’d stop and donate a new one.
When he died almost three years ago at the age of 82, son Tom cleaned out his car. One American flag was left in the trunk. Tom brought it into the hospital. And when a previous flag became worn, Einstein Montgomery removed it and put up the one that belonged to Tom’s father.
And so it waves in tribute.
Gaylets’ father had completed his tour of duty in Korea when, on his last day, he volunteered to help out at the front. “His position was overrun by the Chinese and he was captured and marched to China into a POW camp” Tom said. He was there for two and a half years, until the war ended, officially listed as missing and presumed dead. There was a parade for him in his hometown of Old Forge, PA, when he came home.
Gaylets told Tom of the torture he’d endured as a POW—the regular beatings, the daily rations of one bowl of rice, the hours on a flat metal bed exposed to direct sunlight, scalded in the brutal heat so intense that some of his friends died. The experience made him a devout patriot, thankful for the freedoms and abundance of his country, and he became an activist on behalf of veterans.
He successfully lobbied the state legislature to create POW license plates; he also kept those flags in his trunk, and gave them away, too. He spoke at local schools about the American flag. He was influential in designing the Korean War Memorial in Washington, son Tom said, and he’s one of the soldiers whose image is etched on the monument.
Tom, inspired by his father, joined the Marines after high school and then went to nursing school. He’s vice president in charge of the interventional platform at EMCM, where diagnostic and treatment procedures are done in operating rooms. And he’s on a mission to give special recognition to every patient who’s served time in the military.
Patients who are admitted for a surgical or diagnostic procedure are given special surgical caps which are white and decorated with American flags. Regular caps worn by patients in the OR are blue. And, beginning on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, every veteran at the hospital will receive a large magnet, which says “Thank You for Your Service,” below an American flag. The magnets will be posted on their door frame during their hospital stay and given to them to take home when they’re discharged.
“It’s our hope that the magnet will encourage all employees and medical staff who enter the room to thank the patient for their service and serve as a starting point for more conversation,” Gaylets said.
All done in the shadow of Tom’s father’s flag.