This month we are honored to recognize another Veterans Home resident who proudly served our country in the United States Armed Forces. In 1986, Bill Skiles, a native St. Louisan, joined the Army Reserves and took his basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. Going active duty in 1989, Bill transferred to Fort Polk, Louisiana as a mechanic with the Corps of Engineers.
In 1991 the battalion deployed to Honduras to rebuild roads that had been neglected because of the Country’s political and economic troubles. This was the height of the monsoon season and there were no structures standing. First, tents were set up to house personnel. Also needed was covered space for maintenance shops, a communications center and storage. In a display of “Engineering Ingenuity”, the team designed a swimming pool that utilized generous rainfall and the cool waters of a nearby stream. Following Honduras, Bill was assigned to the Military Police unit at Seoul, South Korea. Soon, Specialist Skiles’ vehicle maintenance skills became a valued asset to the unit’s mission. The year 1993 brought wedding bells and celebration for Bill and his new wife, Wendy. The couple later became parents to a son, Steven and a daughter, Sarah. In 1995, having served three years in the Army Reserves and five and a half years active duty, Bill returned as a civilian to his home and family in St. Louis, Missouri.
The prospect of travel and good pay drew Bill to truck driver training at Schnider Trucking Company. Graduation resulted in a full-time position. Teamed with another graduate, Bill and his partner honed their skills in short and long distance hauls. Eager for more responsibility and pay, Bill joined Hogan Trucking Company. Highlights of his time at Hogan included travel to forty-eight States and Canada where he encountered nearly every type of weather and traffic challenge. During these years, Bill had only one accident — an enviable record!
In late 2002, at age 35, Bill noticed physical problems starting with lethargy and low energy. Then came pain and weakness in his legs, culminating in a fall and a fractured ankle. Bill’s arms, while still functional, became too weak to lift the heavy loads required in his work. Finally, our veteran was forced to leave his much loved driving job. Soon thereafter came the diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis.
Bill entered a nursing home. At first, he could feed himself and do other light tasks. Eventually, all use of his arms was gone. Life at the nursing home was, as Bill described it, “….a lot like being in a prison.” There was little in-house activity and few trips out. Staff indifference added to Bill’s worsening depression.
Mr. Skiles began searching for a place where he could find better treatment and opportunities for personal growth. Highly recommended was the Missouri Veterans Home. Bill applied and in 2012 he began a new life here. Bill relates, “In minutes, I knew I’d come to the right place. I was welcomed and shown around the home. Staff members’ attitudes were up-beat as they helped me get settled. I started feeling hopeful.”
Previously, Bill used a mechanized chair that provided transportation but offered few other options. Today, Mr. Skiles’ life is enhanced by a mobile chair that provides a wide range of functions and conveniences. Controlled by the operator’s head, the unit tilts, reclines, elevates the legs and raises or lowers the seat. It will rotate in place, reverse position or travel forward at a speed selected by the driver.
From his chair and bed, Bill accesses an environmental control unit (ECU) to turn on his room lights and flash the nursing call signal. The system activates the cable box, the television set and telephone. Bill regularly studies or communicates using his voice-prompted computer. In the near future, he will benefit from a high-tech bed that features therapeutic and comfort positions not now available.
For many years, Bill Skiles has enjoyed painting, ceramics and other visual arts. Since his arrival at the Veterans Home this practice has been renewed – sometimes brilliantly. Through his participation in the Recreation and Arts Program at the VA’s Jefferson Barracks Facility, Bill has discovered ways to broaden his creative skills. In early 2014, he was interviewed by PN Magazine. Photos were taken of Bill busy on a current project. He and his work were featured in the October 2014 issue of the magazine.
Wheelchair and Powerchair games highlight Bill’s sporting life. Starting in 2012, Bill traveled to Tampa, Florida where he distinguished himself in Bowling and Slalom. Then came the 2013 Wheelchair Games at Spokane, Washington. Here, our veteran won medals in Bowling, Slalom, and Powerchair Soccer.
Most recently, Bill returned from the week-long National Wheel- chair Games 2015 held in Dallas, Texas. He is proud to grace his new home with the Gold medal in Bowling and the Bronze medal in Slalom. This conference of players was perhaps the most meaningful in Bill’s memory. He recalls the inspirational closing ceremonies as the perfect conclusion to a week of outstanding athletic performance and new and renewed bonds of brotherhood.
Pay it Forward - Bill Skiles’ hope is for residents of our Home to have more opportunities for fun, skill building and friendship connections with other vets. The challenging wheel chair game, Bocce, is one of the recreational possibilities that Bill would like to see available here. Staff at Missouri Veterans Home St. Louis are now looking into ways to make this and other innovative ideas a reality.
Bill Skiles, our friend and inspiration, we are honored to know you and to be allowed to share in your story and your hopes for the future. PLAY ON!