To this day, Helen Chadwick won't share any details of her military service, still staunchly holding true to the oath of secrecy she took some seven decades ago. She'll only confirm she was there. During the height of World War II, Helen — then in her mid-20s — was a member of the United States Navy's female code breakers. The elite and highly secretive unit was responsible for cracking the German armed forces' Enigma Code, which led to the ultimate downfall and defeat of the Nazi army.
And even though the details of her unit's top-secret intelligence work have since been declassified and chronicled in multiple books, Helen's decades-long silence and refusal of recognition has remained, as a showing of her "continued service to our country."
That hasn't stopped Helen's branch of the U.S. Armed Forces from thanking her for that service on at least two separate occasions. The first, in a letter written shortly after the war that stated, "You may take real pride and satisfaction in the part you have played in bringing about the victory that has come to us." A second letter that arrived a short time later "quietly honored" Helen with a Navy Unit Commendation Ribbon in appreciation of her "outstanding heroism in combat."
Last month, Helen was again honored for her service to country. And for the first time since the war, she was honored publicly. Members of her hospice care team at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus presented Helen with a military veteran's service certificate, military pin, Mayo Clinic commemorative military coin, and a pillowcase hand-sewn by hospice volunteers as part of Mayo's long-standing We Honor Veterans program.
"Mayo Clinic has made it a point and commitment to have these We Honor Veterans ceremonies for our patients, and I appreciate the ongoing opportunity to personally honor patients like Helen who have dedicated a portion of their lives in service of others," Nate Perry, one of Helen's hospice care team members, tells us. "We all should celebrate each other, and that's what this ceremony was for Helen -- a simple reminder that her life hasn't gone by unnoticed."
Mayo Clinic Hospice Volunteer Program Coordinator Amy Stelpflug says that's exactly what the We Honor Veterans program is intended to do for Mayo's military veteran patients. "It's always so humbling to know not only are we taking care of people like Helen who've been such an incredible part of our nation's history, but that they're living in our neighborhoods," Stelpflug says. "These ceremonies help our team live out the mission ‘The Needs of The Patient Come First.’ This is one of many ways we can serve our patients, by developing a relationship of trust with them, and honoring and recognizing them for all of the wonderful things they've done and accomplished in their lives," Stelpflug tells us. "The We Honor Veterans ceremonies help us do all of that and more."
You can read more about the many ways Mayo Clinic honors its military veteran patients here, here and here. Then honor us with your comments below before using the social media tools atop this page to share this story with others.