By Errol Castens
OXFORD – As with any collective home for the aged, death is an all-too-frequent occurrence at the Mississippi State Veterans Home in Oxford.
This week, though, one of the losses was a resident who was only 15 years old and was a friend to everyone who walked through the front door. Friday, his friends eulogized him in the Veterans Home chapel.
Stryker was the home’s mascot, a golden retriever named for John Wayne’s character in “The Sands of Iwo Jima.” Trained as a therapy dog, he was one of three pups from the same litter donated to state veterans homes in Oxford, Jackson and Collins.
“It has been a really hard week for all of us,” said Administrator Amanda May. “Stryker was such a joy.”
“Stryker was very important to this home – residents, staff and family members,” added Assistant Administrator Matt Lowry.
Jim McCaulla, the home’s resident chaplain, recalled when he first started ministering to residents.
“He accompanied me as I visited; he approached veterans in wheelchairs, and he would put his head in those laps, and those veterans would respond to him,” he said. “In Heaven, we’re going to see Strykers everywhere.”
Veteran Ralph Hutchins had most of the folks in the crowded chapel laughing. As the two went for a sashay around the grounds, Hutchins, who uses an electric wheelchair, said Stryker ran on ahead. A rabbit bounded out from the garden, and
Stryker went after it. Problem was, when the rabbit went through a hole in the chain-link fence, Stryker hit the fence so hard he bounced to the ground.
“When he was getting up, he looked around to see if anybody had seen him,” Hutchins chuckled.
Stryker’s one real personality flaw was sometimes irrational behavior when a storm was brewing. May recalled having Stryker accompany her on visits once when the weather grew threatening.
“I was on B Hall, and I was helping a new resident unpack,” she said. “Stryker was so scared, he jumped into a suitcase on the bed.”
Fond memories, though, don’t erase the grief over Stryker’s death.
“I enjoyed that puppy dog,” mused resident Hugh Burchfield. “When you have to put one to sleep, it’s awful. There’s no harm in crying; it’s easy to cry.”