Constable: WWII veteran was about to be forced out of his home. Then his daughter found a 'miracle.'

 
 
Updated 12/22/2018 4:29 PM
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  • Posing for this photograph during their 60th wedding anniversary party, John and Jeanne Savely feared they would have to move from their home in a senior living community. But their daughter and members of local charities saved the day.

    Posing for this photograph during their 60th wedding anniversary party, John and Jeanne Savely feared they would have to move from their home in a senior living community. But their daughter and members of local charities saved the day. Courtesy of Marcia Hartigan

  • Celebrating his 95th birthday last June, John Savely shares a moment with Jeanne, his wife of 60 years.

    Celebrating his 95th birthday last June, John Savely shares a moment with Jeanne, his wife of 60 years. Courtesy of Marcia Hartigan

It seemed unlikely that this 95-year-old World War II veteran would be home for Christmas.

John Robert Savely and his wife of 60 years, Jeanne, had gone through their savings paying for their apartment in a senior living community in Glenview. Poor health required the hiring of round-the-clock caregivers not covered by insurance. Social Security checks weren't enough. Their daughter, Marcia Hartigan, was burning through her retirement funds supporting them.

"She was so worried her parents would have to move," says Bob Gorman, a Vietnam veteran from Barrington who is a veteran peer specialist with the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation, a not-for-profit charity in Grayslake.

Gorman met Hartigan last December, after the frustrated woman already had reached out to 15 other organizations across the nation.

"Everybody was so nice, but they just said, 'Try this person.' I was always directed to another person," says Hartigan, who was given the runaround for months. The owner of Hartigan's Ice Cream Shoppe in Evanston, Hartigan, 57, knows how to advocate for people who need care, having done that for her husband, Terry, who died in 2004. She started her all-consuming quest to get help for her dad in August 2017, after he was hospitalized with a life-threatening infection.

Her father, safe and comfortable at home in their senior living apartment, wasn't fit physically or emotionally for a move. "To me, it was a matter of life and death," Hartigan says.

It was only after her dad went to the veterans memorials in Washington with Honor Flight Chicago in 2014 that he began to talk about his three years in the Army during World War II. But Hartigan always knew the war had scarred her dad.

"As a child, I was never allowed to play with toy guns, or water guns, or cap guns. I wasn't even allowed to do this," Hartigan says, raising her thumb and pointing her finger to mimic a pistol. "And he didn't go to fireworks."

Army veteran John Savely didn't discuss his service during World War II until recently, says his daughter Marcia Hartigan. Unearthing his journal and working tirelessly on his war history, Hartigan eventually got her father the benefits he earned, which will allow the 95-year-old man to stay in his home.
Army veteran John Savely didn't discuss his service during World War II until recently, says his daughter Marcia Hartigan. Unearthing his journal and working tirelessly on his war history, Hartigan eventually got her father the benefits he earned, which will allow the 95-year-old man to stay in his home. - Courtesy of Marcia Hartigan

Going through paperwork, Hartigan found her dad's journal of war experiences. Savely, who was stationed in Italy, wrote several times about a "twist of fate" that saved his life. An infection on his trigger finger almost led to amputation and kept him from flying out with a platoon that saw its members perish. Another time, he was kept behind because of his engineering skills, and many of the soldiers that went on that mission were killed.

Gorman recognized the merits of Savely's case and starting reaching out to his charity's vast network. "It's kind of like greasing the skids," he says.

Gorman connected Hartigan to Sherry Kruse, assistant superintendent and veterans service officer at the Veterans Assistance Commission of Lake County. Kruse helped Hartigan gather the proper documents, complete the right forms and verify that her dad qualified for benefits, including compensation for post-traumatic stress disorder. Together, they reached out to national service officer William Garrett of DAV, a not-for-profit charity that provides a lifetime of support for veterans of all generations and their families.

As a father, World War II veteran John Savely avoided fireworks and never let his children play with toy guns. Now 95, Savely recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
As a father, World War II veteran John Savely avoided fireworks and never let his children play with toy guns. Now 95, Savely recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. - Courtesy of Marcia Hartigan

"My father was denied three times because he couldn't remember certain names and platoon numbers," Hartigan says. "Many things were lost in the shuffle and then filed again and again."

But Hartigan, Gorman, Kruse and Garrett didn't give up.

"Two days after Veterans Day in November, I received a letter saying that my father would be compensated 100 percent," Hartigan says, noting that with those benefits, her parents now have enough money to handle their bills and stay in their home. "It felt like a miracle."

While Christmas features plenty of stories of miracles, the Savelys will enjoy the holidays in their home because of Hartigan's unrelenting dedication and the help provided by people who make it their mission to help.

John and Jeanne Savely were married on April 12, 1958. The couple feared they would have to move from their home, until the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation helped connect them with benefits he earned as a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder.
John and Jeanne Savely were married on April 12, 1958. The couple feared they would have to move from their home, until the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation helped connect them with benefits he earned as a World War II veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. - Courtesy of Marcia Hartigan

During this month's open house at the Lake County Veterans and Family Services Foundation, Hartigan brought gallons of ice cream as a thank-you.

"I just feel really good. Experience and persistence paid off," says Gorman, who credits the connections made by the Grayslake veterans charity. "We help veterans get the benefits they earned and deserve."

"It's been quite an adventure," Hartigan says. "I just was not giving up. I'm not convinced my dad would have survived a move to the nursing home. If not for Bob (Gorman), my parents wouldn't be there."

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