A Very Close Call

Down a dusty street and around a corner almost at the end of the street, a retired Navy submariner almost didn’t surface. The facts are few, but there appears to be a happy ending very soon.
American Legion Post 2 in Guatemala was brought into the picture by the U.S. Embassy a couple of months ago. By last December, Mr. ‘C’ was several months behind in his rent. His landlady, who lives in Guatemala City about an hour away, decided to drive over to Jocotenango, one of Antigua’s suburbs, and see for herself what the problem was.
Once inside the dark and less-than-clean apartment it was apparent that Mr. ‘C’ hadn’t been eating for a long time. What was once a robust ex-Navy Corpsman was now a skeletal shell of a man, nearly blind and so deaf that he listens to the television set six inches away. Once back in the city, she contacted the U.S. Embassy and explained the situation of her nearly dead tenant. The embassy, with no mandate or mechanisms of its own to perform rescue missions, then contacted its special resource in Guatemala. ‘Could they take a look and determine what was needed?’
That would have been fine, except that the landlady didn’t leave the man’s address with the embassy, and tracking her down wasn’t easy. Eventually contact was made, along with a home visit by the commander of the post, William J. Shetz. ‘Appalling’ might be an apt word, because that’s what I felt yesterday when I saw it, but that’s been dealt with by Shetz and a few other members of this very active and service-oriented post.
Over the last 17 years there have been 15 of these rescue missions: five were veterans, and the rest unlucky travelers stranded or wounded by circumstance in Guatemala. Post 2 doesn’t receive any remuneration, recognition or accolades for these outreach missions. The U.S. Embassy knows that it can count on Shetz and his dedicated cadre of members to drive (at their own expense) from one end of Guatemala to the other and salvage a wounded warrior or two.
Today, as he has for the last few months, Mr. ’C’ had his meals brought to him by the post. It was a dish of Bavarian ‘Rosti’ – potato pancakes with two eggs on top – which has become a favorite. Other days will see the arrival of a jar of peanut butter, along with his dinner good for two days. Yesterday his apartment was cleaned by another post member, with two maids to handle the mops and brooms. Mr. ‘C’ will be going back to the States in about 10 days, in a wheelchair and personally accompanied by Shetz. His family and VA will take it from there.
How did this happen? It is known that Mr. ’C’ emigrated to Guatemala about seven years ago from Chapala in Mexico, driving his large Dodge pickup and accompanied by a trailer of personal belongings. Why he chose to live in a remote section of a grimy suburb, away from stores and contact with other expatriates, is unknown. What is known is that he became rapidly blind from glaucoma cataracts, besides a near-total hearing loss, both of which made him totally dependent on a maid whose concerns appear to have been more self-serving. His Social Security account has been re-established thanks to the post, and at least one of his four children will see to his immediate needs. The post’s emergency fund, depleted by the unpaid back rent, electric and water bills, will be reimbursed eventually.
If you or a relative are considering visiting or moving to Guatemala, register with the U.S. Embassy here. If something bad happens, they will at least have your contact information. The local Post 2, Department of Mexico, will take care of the rest. They’re better than AAA or ‘roadside assistance’ plans: who else will bring you Bavarian-style potato pancakes or peanut butter?
Michael Sherer, member, Guatemala Post 2