Normand Dupras sat at the Dighton Nursing Center, amazed to hear from his granddaughter, Dona Silva, that a group of people was there to see him.
“We’ve got a surprise for you,” Silva told him Wednesday.
That’s when Glenn Dusablon, of the Veterans Memorial Museum, in Woonsocket, presented Dupras with a full dress uniform, including the white hat, belt and gloves.
“I love this,” Dupras said, looking over each item.
Dupras, of Swansea, Massachusetts, a former reserve police officer in that town, served in the Korean War. At 86, and now suffering from dementia, it was his dying wish a few years back to be buried in the uniform, he said.
Asked what happened to his former uniform, Dupras said he did not know, but believes it was taken at a hospital.
“I got wounded in action,” he said, when a grenade sent shrapnel into his back. Dupras received the Purple Heart.
“It brings back some memories, believe me,” Dupras said, both good and bad. “I was in there when it was really hot.”
Asked why his dying wish was to be buried in the uniform, Dupras said, “I fought for it,” and added, “that’s the only Marine uniform I have.”
Before long, Dupras was wearing the hat and, with the help of Dusablon, slipped into the jacket. Smiling widely, he saluted and then put both of his thumbs up.
“Very spiffy!” Dusablon said.
Getting the uniform was a challenge of its own.
Silva got in touch with her cousin, Melinda Grocott, of Exeter, who said she enlisted the help of her boyfriend, Rodney Santos, who served in the Navy during the Persian Gulf war and now works for the Department of Defense. All started making calls.
Eventually, a volunteer at the VA Medical Center in Rhode Island heard from the family and called Dusablon.
“You can’t ignore a request like that,” Dusablon said.
In November, Dusablon opened the Veterans Memorial Museum, and is now raising money for an elevator so that more veterans can visit.
There, he has amassed not only uniforms but also the equipment soldiers used from the Revolutionary War to the present day. The family hoped he had a uniform to spare.
After he received the measurements from the family (which were a little too large), he realized none was the right size. He then purchased a uniform for about $400 out of his own pocket, and raised money for reimbursement. People from as far away as Florida sent money, he said, many of them veterans themselves.
“That’s all we are about,” Dusablon said. “Preserving the history and honoring the service.”
Grocott, who was on hand and snapped pictures of the happy event, wiped away tears.
“We have to take care of our veterans,” she said. “Without them, we have nothing.”
On Twitter: @CarolKozma
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