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A soldier’s story continues May 30, 2011

Posted by paulstella in Uncategorized.

As Americans commemorate this annual observance of Memorial Day, we salute those who honored our country during service in the armed forces and throughout their lives. Many of us will reflect on those who have passed on. I, however, will reflect on one who remains.

Dad served with the 108th Infintry during World War II. My brother Bob found this photo and now has it displayed on Dad's hospital room wall.

Joseph Robert Stella served in World War II as a member of the 108th Infantry, 2nd battalion. My dad served this country during a tour that included Asia Pacific. As I understand it, he never saw combat. In 1944, Dad returned to the states in order to observe the death of his mother and did not resume duty. Instead, he and my mom began the process of raising a family.

Today, Dad is embroiled in a more personal combat. You see, three weeks ago today, at the age of 92, he survived surgery to replace a heart valve. I doubt the need to explain that, at his age, surgery of this type comes at an elevated level of risk. But the decision to move forward was a relatively simple one for my dad.

One week prior to surgery, I sat with Dad, my sister Kathy and brother Chris at Rochester General Hospital, and we listen as the surgeon presented the situation. Without the surgery, Dr. Ronald Kirshner explained, Dad might survive another two years—in slow decline. With surgery, the odds of survival were surprisingly high, 80/20 in my dad’s favor.

“I’m pretty confident I can get you off the table,” Dr. Kirshner explained, “but there are any number of complications that can conceivable stand in the way of your recovery.” He went on to describe a few of them.

“You hear him, Dad?” asked my brother Chris, fully aware of my dad’s habit of faking his way past severe hearing loss.

“Yeah,” replied my dad with unyielding conviction. “Let’s do it!”

His decision, of course, surprised no one who knows him. Life—if not lived well—is not worth living. Even within the hour before surgery, as we gathered at Dad’s bedside, my siblings and I marveled at the strength of his resolve. But with a series of small gestures, he revealed his source.

“1-2-3-4-5,” he said pointing out each of his children. “They’re all here.” Family, you see, provides strength—his reason for living.

Fast-forward three weeks, and Dad’s recovery continues but at an agonizingly slow pace for his family. Stellas, as is the case with our patriarch, are not blessed with boundless patience. Treatment for seizures that occurred shortly after surgery has kept him largely unconscious throughout. But he is strong, and there is fight in each and every breath!

Yesterday, for the first time, he went off the ventilator. And as he opened his eyes and looked at me, I grabbed his hand and told him all that I believed to be true.

“You’re doing great, Dad! You look good, and you’re making terrific progress. You made the right decision—having the surgery. You are going to get your life back. I know it!”

I watched careful as my dad began to move his lips.

“Just relax, Dad. You can’t speak.” The trachea still implanted in his throat prevented it.

But I kept watching. And, I can’t be certain, but I believe he mouthed these words to me: “I want to go home.”

“You will, Dad,” I replied with a smile. “Can’t wait to get you there.”

I grew up Roman Catholic, and it remains the foundation of how I live my life. But I do not attend mass regularly, and I do not consider myself prayerful. That said, it has been extremely moving to know how many people are praying for my dad.

Over the past several weeks, as I effort to put my intentions before God, I struggle to identify exactly what it is I’m asking. At 92, Dad has enjoyed a remarkable life. Is it appropriate, even fair, that I ask my father be spared? Many other veterans, loyal servants of God and country, never came home—never had the opportunity to raise a family of their own. I feel selfish—so I ask God to bless my Dad and remain at his side regardless the outcome. That gives me peace.

I will return to Rochester General Hospital today, and I will look for more signs of progress—more assurance from my dad of his continuing recovery. But in a moment of reflection, I will not struggle to offer my intentions. I will ask for God’s healing hand on my father, of course, but I will also pray for the many souls that have gone on before him.

May God’s blessing be with you and your family this Memorial Day!



1. Maureen - May 30, 2011


What a great story of courage and faith! Your father sounds like a remarkable man! I will keep him and your family in my prayers.

2. Janine Schmidt - May 30, 2011

What a wonderful tribute to your Dad! While reading it I was thinking of my own dad whom passed away 18 months ago. He was also a lion hearted warrior with years of service in war to his country. We are fortunate to be the children of such men! Prayers to you and for the recovery of your beloved Dad!

3. Frank Battaglia - May 30, 2011

Okay, that gave me goose bumps and a lump in my throat. Excellent post, Paul. You, your dad and the rest of the Stella crew will
continue to be in my thoughts and prayers…

4. Debbie Ferris - May 30, 2011

Paul, what a wonderful tribute to your Dad and your family. I am so thankful to God that he has turned a corner and is making progress. One day at a time and soon he will be going home and enjoying his new found strength with the family he loves so much. We will continue to send our prayers and our love to all of you!!

5. Joyce Sackett - June 4, 2011

I still have goose bumps after reading that remarkable tribute to your Dad. I know he will be able to celebrate the 100 party. He will continue to gain strength if you tell him that the Yankees are still in first place. You can tell him I said so. Love that man.

Joyce and Lynn Sackett

6. Anne Meagher - June 13, 2011

What a beautiful and touching tribute to your father! Reminds me a bit of my own experience with my dad (also a WWII vet!) My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Thanks for sharing this.

7. Steve - August 19, 2011

You truly expressed your thoughts beautifully…. My dad was also a WWll veteran. I can put myself in your situation and relive what I felt a few years back when I lost my parents. I feel blessed to have had them into their 80’s.

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