Pete Rafferty, a Vietnam veteran, achieved life goals including an Honor Flight to D.C. following bypass surgery and cardiac rehab to ensure his health.
Pete Rafferty, 72, knew from early childhood that he wanted to serve his country. A Springfield native who attended Feishan’s High School, he achieved that dream quickly upon graduation when he enlisted in the U.S. Marines in 1963.
He was assigned to the 1st Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division. By July 1965, his unit had deployed to patrol South Vietnam, where he served as a communications and radio operator.
Later that year, Pete contracted a severe case of malaria. He came home soon after to recover and was honorably discharged.
His was a less-than-glamorous homecoming, like so many other war veterans of his time and those who served before him. So when his opportunity came to travel on an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., this past summer, he had high hopes of returning home to his family and friends with a greater sense of celebration and fond memories to boot.
But first, Pete had to ensure his health would allow the trip to happen at all.
Just six months before his scheduled trip, in December 2015, Pete underwent a sextuple bypass surgery at Memorial Medical Center. Following a short stay at a rehabilitation facility, he entered Memorial's Cardiac Rehab program in early spring which included three grueling sessions a week for three months at Koke Mill Medical Center.
"The team there was always very positive," Pete said. "Sometimes, it seemed like they were pushing harder than I could do, but I did everything they wanted me to do—got to the levels they had set up to achieve. There was a lot of encouragement."
He credits Sandy Borowiecki, RN, BSN, CCRP, for encouraging him along the way.
"There's no getting away from her," Pete joked. "So I had to behave myself and do what she asked me to do."
Pete had a lot of goals for this summer following his recovery: to camp with his Boy Scout troop, spend time with his two grandchildren—and that important Honor Flight in June.
"I had all these plans, but had it not been for all the people in therapy at Koke Mill, I would have been in a world of trouble," he said. "They helped just tremendously. I don't know how to say that any stronger."
Not only did Pete get to camp out with his Boy Scouts as planned, he also served as the health officer at a weeklong training camp, and soon after, took his grandkids on a vacation to Virginia Beach.
But the highlight was his Honor Flight. On June 21, 2016, Pete and his nephew spent the long day traveling to and from Washington, D.C., with several other war veterans. He visited Arlington National Cemetery, saw the Washington Monument and other historical markers and visited the memorials honoring servicemen who died defending our country.
As Pete approached the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, he realized he couldn't bring himself to look at the thousands of engraved names.
"I knew I'd recognize too many," he said.
He was able to walk alongside the wall, however, and he posed for a photo.
Then, he and his fellow travelers headed back home—and they finally got the homecoming they deserved. Reflecting on that moment still brings Pete to tears.
"I didn't realize they could fit so many people into the Capital Airport as they did that night to greet us when we came home," he said. "It was a much different welcome than when I got home in '65. There were so many people out there."
"The entire experience was fantastic, and I really don't think it would have been possible if I hadn't come to Memorial last December."