There were very few dry eyes Thursday morning at Partners in Care as Pearl Harbor survivor Charles “Chuck” Sellentin accepted a plaque and pin for his service as a veteran of World War II and the Korean War.
“He is just a fun-spirited, fun-loving guy,” said Noah Heinrich, Partners in Care chaplain. “He loves for people to just sit and listen to him and talk about those memories. You almost have to pull yourself away.”
Sellentin’s “pinning ceremony” before 30 to 40 people is the first in a new program to honor veterans in hospice care at the Bend facility before their deaths. According to hospice chaplain Jason Medina, Sellentin, 91, is the “guinea pig.”
“One in four terminally diagnosed people is a veteran at the moment,” Medina said. “We were asking, ‘How do we best serve that segment of the population? How do we honor them?’”
The solution? An award certificate for Coast Guard Master Machinist First Class Sellentin, a blue “V” pin and an opportunity to recount some of his war experiences for his family, friends and caretakers.
“Oh man, I have a lot of stories,” Sellentin said.
He recalled being aboard the USS Taney in Honolulu Harbor, which is near Pearl Harbor, and seeing Japanese aircraft flying in the skies above his ship. He said there wasn’t a plan and no one knew what was going on.
“A Japanese plane flew over; I could see the red dot on the tail of the plane,” he said. “A pilot dropped right down where I was standing and waved at us, then took off.”
Sellentin witnessed the destruction of two other ships in the harbor, the USS Oklahoma and USS Arizona.
“USS Arizona opened up its ammunition hatch, and the (planes) come over and dropped a bomb down in the hole and blew that ship so high; I can’t believe they would do that,” he said. “USS Oklahoma turned over and only the guys that could got out. Everyone was so messed up about what was taking place.”
Sellentin recounted the USS Taney dropping depth charges to find Japanese submarines — “every time a school of fish went by, they’d sound the alarm” — and one of his shipmates falling overboard and being rescued by another ship.
“The watchman broke silence, and we were afraid one of the submarines would hit us for sure,” he said.
“They put a boat over the side, picked him up, gave him a shot of whiskey and put him up for the night.”
Sellentin’s wife, Mary Ann, three of their kids and a grandson attended the commemoration ceremony.
The pride was evident on their faces as they watched Sellentin accept his awards.
“You don’t see Pearl Harbor survivors very often and they don’t know how many are left,” Mary Ann, 83, said. “Pearl Harbor is his life … and he is a Pearl Harbor survivor.”
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