One of the few veterans still alive who experienced the bombing of Pearl Harbor is trying to go home.
George Vandersluis has lived in the Minnesota Veterans Home in Hastings for eight years, but most of his family, including two sons and several grandchildren, live in California. He wants to move back to California, but medical needs and state policies are keeping him here in Minnesota. His family is trying to change that.
A native of northeast Minneapolis, Vandersluis joined the U.S. Marine Corps in Minnesota. He was 24 when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened, serving on the U.S.S. Honolulu.
These days, Pearl Harbor survivors are hard to come by. In 2011, Vandersluis was one of only three veterans present at a St. Paul remembrance event. Nationally, records estimate there are only about 2,000 survivors still alive. With the battle 73 years in the history books, surviving veterans are now at least in their 90s.
He spent 18 months on the Honolulu and went on to spend six years in the military, traveling to Panama, Caledonia, Australia, Samoa and Alaska before he reached his final stop in San Francisco, Calif. After leaving the military, he settled first in San Francisco in 1946 and then a few years later in Fresno, Calif., where he raised his family and spent most of his life.
“He was a salesman, so he knows everyone in the valley,” Roxanne said.
Roxanne and her husband, Jon, Vandersluis’ son, still live in the area, and they also have two children there.
Living in Hastings
Vandersluis moved into the Hastings veterans home after experiencing a heart attack, said Roxanne Schatzlein Vandersluis, George’s daughter-in-law. He needed to find an assisted living situation, but there was nothing available close to home.
“Eight years ago when I was trying to find a place that would work for him and would work for all of (the family), there was no VA in Fresno,” Roxanne said.
On a visit to see his sister in Cannon Falls, they decided to move him into the veteran’s home in Hastings. He would be closer to his sister, and the family had a number of other connections in the area as well. And, it’s been a good stay.
“He’s probably the most loved man in that place,” Roxanne said. “He’s just always pretty much upbeat and always thankful for visitors.”
Plus, the staff has been “so kind” to him, she said. As he’s aged, his needs have increased. Staff stepped up to help him with his laundry, make his bed and get dressed, and they even got him an electric chair recently so he could still make his own way around. But the home is more geared for independent living, and Vandersluis’ needs have been becoming more difficult to manage.
“They don’t have the staff for that,” Roxanne said.
Last fall, Vandersluis’ sister died just before her 101st birthday. Her death has been hard on him, and his medical situation got worse about two months ago. He had a blood clot that went into his eye, leaving him blind on his left side. Just a few weeks ago, he fractured his leg.
Two weeks ago, Vandersluis moved into the veteran’s home in Minneapolis, where he can get the level of care he needs. He’s been appreciative of the care he’s getting, but his quality of life isn’t the same. The changes have had a noticeable effect.
“He talks to my husband almost every day … and he can tell the change in him,” Roxanne said.
“It feels like he’s lost everything,” she added.
His goal – and his family’s – is to get him back to California.
“That’s his wish, is to get back there and we’re hoping that … somebody can come to his aid,” Roxanne said.
California built its own veterans home two years ago, but Vandersluis can’t get his name on the wait list until he establishes California residency – even though his bills are handled by his family there. Then, there’s no saying how long he would have to wait to get a spot there, Roxanne said.
“It’s six months just to get your name on the list,” she said. “So is it a year, is it two? You just don’t know.”
The only way to get her father-in-law residency, she said, would be to have him move in with her family, but that’s not ideal either, since theirs is an older home that isn’t wheelchair accessible.
The family has sent letters to both the California and Minnesota governors, trying to figure out some sort of arrangement, and they have raised the issue with the VA in Fresno as well, but so far, they haven’t made any progress.
Anyone who would be able to help is asked to contact Roxanne Schatzlein Vandersluis at 559-285-9081 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.