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Brothers in Arms

In honor of Memorial Day and all those brave women and men who serve our country, we wanted to share this story about two military veterans’ special friendship.

Two former fighter pilots form a friendship, and a family is grateful

Left: L. Hardwick Caldwell, Jr. (back row, second from left) and his fighter squadron at NAS Pensacola, including the brother of his future wife, Ted Chandlee (front row, second from right)
Right: Bill Gauntt in flight uniform ready to fly a RF4C Phantom Jet in Vietnam

Col. Bill Gauntt and L. Hardwick Caldwell, Jr., were soldiers of different generations, but their paths would cross later in life, when Bill, a BrightStar Care caregiver, became Hardwick’s companion.

Both former fighter pilots, the men had experiences and interests in common, as Hardwick’s family had hoped when they sought help from BrightStar Care, and the two became fast friends.

“I anticipated that Bill would exhibit a lot of warmth towards a fellow combat pilot,” recalls Hardwick’s son Mark about bringing on Bill. “But I didn’t anticipate the depth of the relationship that would develop there.”

PLANE AND SIMPLE

Hardwick flew F4U Corsairs for the Navy during World War II, and Gauntt is a retired Air Force pilot who flew F-4s in Vietnam and spent time as a POW. Planes, past and present, were a much-loved topic of conversation, and they served as a springboard early in their relationship.

“They had things in common, and it’s easy to honor people from the Greatest Generation, but I’ve come to understand that’s typical of Bill in his relationship with others for whom he’s given care,” says Mark.

When Bill met Hardwick, Hardwick was in his nineties and a little unsteady on his feet. “(The family) wanted someone to basically be his safeguard,” says Bill. “I let him have his independence.”

Bill drove Hardwick to doctor’s appointments, the barbershop, and his office three or four days a week. He would often fetch lunch, and the two men would discuss everything from family life to politics.

BrightStar Care Chattanooga Caregiver Bill Gauntt today

“Working with veterans, for me, is a special treat,” says Bill. A history buff, he relishes hearing eyewitness accounts of battles. “Bill took a real personal interest in my dad, and it wasn’t a job for Bill, it was a ministry,” says Mark. Bill truly cared for Hardwick.

The two men pulled pranks and enjoyed the simple pleasures of life, such as watching wildlife. Hardwick never met a stranger, his son says, and welcomed Bill’s friendship, so “It was easy for (Bill’s) compassion to really shine,” Mark explains.

SOLDIERING ON

As Hardwick’s health declined, Bill made it possible for Hardwick to be at home with his family rather than in a hospital.

“Bill was present, but always in a respectful and humble way,” Mark says. Together with hospice workers, Bill helped care for Hardwick and ease the burden on Hardwick’s wife, Betsy. Bill also ensured that each family member spent time alone with Hardwick and could say goodbye undisturbed.

“You never felt (Bill’s) presence when you were visiting with my dad in any other way than you would a family member,” says Mark. Bill was there with Mark when Hardwick breathed his last, and Mark gave his father a final salute.

At the funeral, Bill was mentioned for a part he had played in a decades-long recurring family prank between Mark and his father, and it touched Bill deeply. “I knew I’d done a good job at that point,” he says. Following Hardwick’s death, Bill took a month off of work to grieve for his friend, who he calls a true gentleman.

Mark calls Bill “an exceptional human being.” Far from having the stereotypical bravado associated with fighter pilots, Bill exhibited respectful, tender, and merciful care. Mark says, “I don’t think (Bill) approaches people as a client or patient, he truly loves the people he serves.”

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