In the military, service to country is almost entirely altruistic. But as Air Force veteran Bill Wells of Beavercreek tells his daughter, Cara Arnold, his work at The Wright-Patterson Medical Center unexpectedly affected the lives of his own family.
Cara Arnold (CA): So, military has been ingrained in our household for as long as I can remember. I remember waking up to you singing, “You've got to get up, you've got to get up, you've got to get up in the morning!”
Bill Wells (BW): It seemed to be what young men … And, of course, at that point in time it was just men, but now it's open to both genders. But that is what young men in our family did. graduated from high school, went to college at Old Dominion University, enrolled in Army ROTC, eventually I would get a scholarship from ROTC, graduated in 1979, was commissioned a Signal Lieutenant in the Army Reserve. By that time, I had been granted an educational delay to go to law school.
CA: So, you started out Army, or Army Reserves. What prompted you to join the Air Force?
BW: When I graduated, the Army was full, they had a waiting list. I thought about attempting a branch transfer. So, I interviewed with the Air Force and got accepted. But I came to it to the Wright Patterson Medical Center. The medical center was being renovated and we were adding a new neonatal intensive care unit, NICU. So, I was involved in getting the paperwork done and getting that all approved by the state. And just a couple of weeks before your little sister was born, we did the final approval and that brought the NICU online and allowed it to open. And that would be turned out to be strikingly important, because when your sister Caitlin was born, she crashed and burned immediately on birth, and was rushed down the hall to the new neonatal intensive care unit.
CA: It's remarkable timing.
BW: Later on, she went into heart failure. But there were several times they came and asked just to make sure we weren't Catholic.
CA: Why Catholic?
BW: Last rites.
CA: Wow. That's a hard experience to recall.
BW: Yeah. But we didn't have a pediatric cardiologist on staff, but we had a new active duty cardiologist that just had arrived here, hadn't been processed, and he was still out house hunting. I knew what area of town he was house hunting in. So, I called all of those police departments and explained, quite honestly, that I was Captain Wells from the Wright Patterson Medical Center, and that we needed to get in touch with one of our doctors and this was his license number. So, he's going out with his real estate agent and next thing you know, he sees blue lights behind him. They escorted him to the base. Jack scrubbed in and went to work on Caitlin. Dr. Jack Powell. He figured out how to get her heart back working. So, she was born the day after Thanksgiving and came home two days before Christmas. And for the next eighteen years, until he died, Dr. Powell got a picture of Caitlin in his Christmas card every year.
Bill Wells and Cara Arnold's conversation took place at WYSO as part of StoryCorps' Military Voices Initiative which visited the Miami Valley last summer. Veterans’ Voices on WYSO is presented by Wright-Patt Credit Union with additional support from CareSource. This story was edited by Kateri Kosta and Will Davis and created at the Eichelberger Center for Community Voices at WYSO.