A poem written by her G.I. sweetheart over 65 years ago has helped carry Marie Schaefer through her long life, through thick and thin.

TAFTON - A poem written by her G.I. sweetheart over 65 years ago has helped carry Marie Schaefer through her long life, through thick and thin.

The Tafton resident,who is 87, said that her late husband, Roy, penned the poem while he was in the Korean War.

After 61 years of marriage, Roy Henry Schaefer died of ALS. He was 85. It turns out veterans are about twice as likely to be affected by this disease, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, than anyone else.

ALS

Commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) is a progressive,neurodegenerative disease. It affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, affecting voluntary muscle control and eventually leading to the person’s demise.

According to the ALS Association, the disease usually strikes people between the ages of 40 and 70. It is estimated that are more than 20,000 Americans who have ALS at any gave time.

Although it can strike anyone, mysteriously, military veterans are approximately twice as likely to be diagnosed with the disease as the public at large. The ALS Association states that the reasons are not known.

In 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) put in place regulations to establish a presumed service connection for ALS, thanks to the efforts of the ALS Association, key members of Congress, and advocates. Under these regulations, the VA presumes that ALS  was incurred or aggrevated by a veteran’s military service. Qualifying veterans with ALS are eligible for VA disability cooperation. The VA offers a full range of health care benefits to assist a veteran with ALS to pay for the cost to make home care accessible.

“Veterans are developing ALS in rates higher than the general population, and it was appropriate to take action,” then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James B. Peake stated, in 2008.

Multiple studies have demonstrated the increased likelihood for a veteran to receive ALS, regardless of the branch of service and whether if the veteran served in peacetime or at war, the ALS Association states. “Factors that may contribute to the increased risk of ALS in veterans include exposure to lead, pesticides or other environmental contacts,” the ALS Association notes. Tobacco use also increases the risk of ALS, whether or not the person served in the military.

While there is not yet a cure or treatment to halt or reverse ALS, people may experience a better quality of life by participating in support groups attending a recognized treatment center, according to the ALS Association.

Two well known persons who suffered from ALS were the late, legendary baseball player Lou Gehrig and the late astronomer, Stephen Hawking.

Met at a roller skating rink

Roy Henry Schaefer was born February 7, 1929, in Union City, NJ, to Albert and Josephine (Rohr) Schaefer.

Marie said that Roy was two years older than him.

They met at a roller skating rink, where he asked her for a dance.

Once they established a relationship, they would visit much and on Sundays he would pick her up for church.

War would interrupt and postpone their hopes and dreams.

Roy served in the Naval Reserves, but was then drafted into the Army where he served as Staff Sergeant in the infantry as a radioman in the Korean War.

She said he would always write nice letters to her. They both lived in New Jersey.

When he was discharged from the Army, he proposed to her, and they were married. They raised three daughters, Diane, Susan and Laurie.

After his discharge from the service, he was apprenticed and became a tool and die maker for Curtis-Wright. He later became an engineer and quality control supervisor for Singer-Kerfott. While working full-time, he took night classes at Rutgers and Fairleigh Dickinson Universities to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree.

For the last 26 years of Roy’s life, he and Marie lived at Lake Wallenpaupack.

After he retired, he worked as the activities bus driver for Wallenpaupack School District. This became his most favorite job he had ever had.

Symptoms were gradual.

When he came down with ALS, the symptoms were gradual and at first they did not know what was going on. It was affecting his ability to walk.

When a doctor heard that he was a veteran, he understood that Roy was suffering from ALS.

Marie said from then on, her husband received care from the Veterans Administration, making many visits to the VA hospital in Wilkes Barre.

Eventually, he was confined to his bed.

Thankfully, the disease never affected Roy’s ability to speak.

Three years after the first symptoms were noticed, Roy died at Wayne Memorial Hospital, Honesdale, Monday, September 8, 2014.

The poem

The poem that Marie has clung to through her life- and keeps in a frame, is all the more precious now. It was written to her on June 7, 1951 from Hwachon, North Korea. She shared this poem, hoping it would encourage someone else.

To My Girl

Sweetheart - take this little rhyme from me -
All the joys that gold can buy,
All the songs that birds can sing,
All this world can hold to give -
Have not half the charm of you
And the lovely things you do.

Sweetheart - when God sent you my way
And I often wonder how he did -
He must have known, you were my kind - just you alone.

And although lost are our dreams that use to be,
Soon again we’ll start anew
Even the things I thought worth while
Could not buy your lovely smile.

Sweetheart - this is what you mean to me,
More than all that money buys,
More than any selfish prize,
More than fortune, more than fame,
And I guess you know - I love you,
Because nothing matters - more than you.-
From your G.I.,
Roy

“God sent him to me,” Marie said.

Noting that ALS is a “very, very sad” disease, she was asked what she would recommend to anyone whose loved one was so afflicted.

“You have to love them dearly,” she said.

For more information

The ALS Association website states that this is the only national non-profit organization fighting Lou Gehrig’s Disease on every front. While in the forefront of research, ALS assists people with ALS through a nationwide network of chapters. Multi-disciplinary care is coordinated through verified clinical care centers, and fostering government partnerships.

For more information about ALS and the ALS Association, visit them online at www.alsa.org. Their national headquarters address is 1275 K Street NW, Suite 250, Washington, DC 20005.

They may be contacted at 202-407-8580.
Information about veteran benefits is available at wwww.va.gov or by contacting the VA at 1-800-827-1000.