The Marion, Illinois VA Medical Center echoed with the rumble of motorcycles and fire and police sirens as more than 200 bikers and supporters came out to go on one last bike ride with Marineone last wish feature 2 Veteran Walter “Vernell” Holderfield. Three lanes of bikers from across Southern Illinois were led by Holderfield as he rode on the back of a Harley-Davidson trike, driven by Navy Veteran Mike Harris. “Riding used to be my therapy,” Holderfield said.

It’s been about ten years since Holderfield was on a motorcycle because he has COPD and does not have the strength to ride alone. Today, Holderfield got to ride one last time as he joked about this being an early birthday gift. He turns 64 in June, but realizes with his diagnosis he may not live that long.

Six months ago, Holderfield was battling depression and felt useless in his condition. He was on the brink of giving up, when he decided to reach out for help.

“There’s a reason for me to still be alive and I think this must be it. I hope that this experience will be shared and that it will inspire other Veterans to reach out and get help if they need it,” Holderfield said.

Over 200 bikers and supporters came out to ride with Holderfield to show him that he is not alone.

Six months ago, Holderfield was battling depression and felt useless in his condition. He was on the brink of giving up, when he decided to reach out for help. He was alone in his depression, but today he lives and talks with other Veterans and what he considers his Marion VA family.

In addition to being a father and husband, Holderfield was a member of a rock band and spent countless hours on the road, riding his motorcycle.  He recalls back to 1991 when he purchased a motorcycle and a van around the same time. Within six years, the motorcycle had over 70,000 miles on it, while the van only had 10,000 miles – it’s no wonder that Holderfield longed for one last ride.

Marion VA Veteran's last wish

Veteran Vernell Holderfield with the two nurses who made his bike ride possible, Jessica Watkins, RN (left) and Monica Paisley, CNA. Photo by Richard Sitler, The Southern Illinoisan.

How did our nurses and Community Living Center Staff make this happen?

These acts of kindness are a daily occurrence in VA health care; however, this incident stands out because of Holderfield’s enthusiasm and willingness to share his experience with others who may need help, but might be on the fence about asking for it.

Holderfield would joke with one of his nurses, Monica Paisley, about riding on a motorcycle and how much he misses it. After a couple weeks of bantering back and forth, Paisley decided to make it happen for him. She reached out to his family and physician to make sure it was doable and the answer from both was a resounding “YES!”

Another gift that Holderfield received was a handmade leather key chain. Jessica Watkins, RN, made numerous calls to various bike shops and had no luck in finding what Holderfield wanted. Jessica then did what our nurses do best, she went above and beyond for our Veteran and she personally crafted one for Holderfield. She took a leather hair clip with fringe and modified it to make that perfect biker’s key chain.

Holderfield loves that key chain so much that he has requested to be buried with it.  “I have always gotten my healthcare here at the Marion VA, I couldn’t ask for anything better” said Holderfield with pride.

Both nurses, Monica Paisley and Jessica Watkins, rode side by side with Holderfield as his VA angels. Holderfield wouldn’t have had it any other way.

You can find the photos for this event on Flickr or on the Southern Illinoisan’s website.

WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Editor’s Note: Vernell Holderfield’s wish wasn’t the only one granted by Marion VA last Friday. In preparing this blog post, we learned from Marion VA Medical Center public affairs specialist Beth Lamb that the bikers were asked to gather at the local VFW after taking a loop with Vernell. She said they learned there was a woman who lives near the VA facility who loves motorcycles and is also terminally ill.  At Marion VA’s request, the riders drove by her house en route to the VFW so she could hear the bikes rumble by. “We granted two wishes that day,” Lamb shared.

WilliamsMartinezAbout the author: Williams Martinez is a public affairs specialist with the Marion, Illinois VA Medical Center. As a Veteran he loves being able to share the stories of fellow Servicemembers and honor military traditions.

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Published on Feb. 22, 2016

Estimated reading time is 4.1 min.

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  1. aamikes March 1, 2016 at 8:45 pm

    Guess what!!!!!!! If your a nasty a$$ vet that does nothing but bitch like a little girl and complain than you will probably receive the same kind of treatment…..These pro’s at the VA are PEOPLE to…..they respond like you do……treat then with a smile, a kind word, and occsionally a coffee, donut, jar of honey, or a small gift of appreciation and your sniffiling a$$’s… who complain about bad service… might see a turnaround……..treat people like you want then to treat you… do you react to a small gift of appreciation…….how about giving alittle and not being always a taker… works

  2. Grafton Matthews February 29, 2016 at 9:18 am

    I have been a patient at the various Baltimore VA hospitals since I returned from Viet-Nam in the 1970’s. The treatment I received at the various facilities has been excellent. The doctors, nurses, and staff have been very professional and they have treated me with the utmost care and respect. Thank you for taking care of me all these years and in the future for any of my health care needs.

  3. WAYNE HUNT February 27, 2016 at 9:35 pm


  4. Daryl Jones February 27, 2016 at 1:11 pm

    I was diagnosed stage 4 cancer by my private physician. Went to the VA seeking chemotherapy and they told me I could get an intake exam in a month. Even after explaining to them I already had the pathology report and needed urgent treatment, they were apathetic. I ended up paying for a private physician and treatment out of my own pocket, huge expense but the prognosis is good. The VA seems to be a good at health care as long as the disease fits into their schedule but for Veterans that don’t have time and cannot afford alternatives, I imagine it feels like a death sentence.

  5. John Houman February 27, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Vernell, I have related to motorcycling as my therapy as well for many years. Perhaps you can live vicariously through my vintage motorcycle race blog where I have a blast on a stock CB350 Honda from the 1960s? Reading and watching the videos could prove to help you relate to your past motorcycle experiences? I hope this brings you as much excitement as you can handle. Jack

  6. STEPHE WAMBOLT February 27, 2016 at 7:49 am

    The VA, does have difficulties with some people who are suppose to live up to their, chosen, responsibilities when they agreed to hire on. People who generalize their view on situations and institutions like this, are, very, short sighted and generally ignorant of the real world, anyway.
    The, general, type of reporting, now a days seem another pathetic example of this, also. They don’t, just, give you the news but offer their opinions which seems rediculous. What’s news about their opinions? You can get that at the local barber shop etc.. When they do get an important news event, they don’t let it go for days on end. Always the same story, opinions, related situation some time in the past. The point seems to be more about gettting our attention, than anything else. Might be for the comercials. The same would be for what they report on the VA. Fox news is the classic example but ABC is right there, too along with others.
    I, personally, was treated at the SEATTLE VA for service related Hodgkins Lymphoma diagnos in 1965. It came back in 1968 and again for the last time in 1973. They solved the problem with flying colors but along with the good memories of this there were some not so good and they were some of the people I had to deal with. It WAS no more than I have experienced in any other situation, though. Jobs, Navy family.
    We live in a human world with all kinds of people. The VA is nothing different. Check it and correct it is the, only, answer. Not faulting all for the actions of the few. Human mistakes shouldn’t be taken and down right neglect, either.
    The Navy gave me about a year to live. I am writhing this letter, now, thanks to what they had done for me, then.

  7. Carlos February 27, 2016 at 1:29 am

    I honestly hate the VA. I can’t get help. No one ever calls me back. I just suck it up and drive on. I gave 10 years of my life for service. I can’t even get them to give me a cup of coffee. Get rid of the VA. Allow us to go to Whatever Dr. We like and let Uncle Sam pay the bill. Tri-care had its issues but it worked. Most hospitals I have went to treated me better because they know if treatment is not working they will try and fix it. Not all VA hospitals are bad but if they were to be run like a Battalion service would be better. Yes they would have to get rid of the military Dr’s but deep down I feel that’s the right solution.

  8. Robin A. Feldman February 26, 2016 at 11:38 pm

    Some of the ones I read are wrong!

  9. Jeffrey Dorfman February 26, 2016 at 11:25 pm

    All I can say now about Fox News and the VA is, I’m certainly not a fan of Fox News, but I know, personally, that the institution known as the “VA”, does not have our veteran’s backs. I even have been the subject of such incompetent medical service for one of my conditions, that I finally just dropped going to them in the Philadelphia Medical Center. Out of a number of medical issues, only my audiology department handles my problem with a great amount of professionalism and care. The worst is dealing with my “primary physician, who isn’t a physician anyway, and the podiatry department. This primary physician business is a bunch of crap. It just makes you have to come in for any problem at least twice, which increases the cost of “what is now still considered substandard medical service”. I went to a town meeting sponsored by the Coatesville Hospital at a local site in Delaware County and spent over an hour speaking with two of their patient advocates, who said they felt my frustration and pain dealing with my primary physician at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center, and said they will contact their counterpart at the VA Phila Medical Center and that they would contact me within several days. After not hearing from them for over two weeks, I called them and left a voice message for them to call me back. No callback from them either. DON’T TELL NE THE VA DOESN’T SUCK.

  10. Dan Allison February 26, 2016 at 10:25 pm

    I just wanted to add Ft Meade VA in Sturgis SD as the best of the best — They have always been there for me — no matter what. I suffer from severe PTSD and see a therapist once a month — they went out of their way to set up on line visits while I’m in NM at my other home.

    I will add that the VA clinic in Las Cruces is not where I want to go for treatment of any sort, nor is the Hospital in El Paso — so with that said I respect everyone who is out there trying to help those of us that served.. So a big thank you to all the dedicated and caring folks at Ft Meade

  11. Felecia Davis February 26, 2016 at 4:18 pm

    My son joined the Marines in October 2014. He was discharged two months later. He was stung by an ant during PT. The Marines kicked my son and charged him with fraud, which is on his DD214. Their reasoning is that he knew he was allergic to red ants before he joined the Marines, which we di not know. We have appealed this to the Dept of Navy, but they will not change his DD214 to say honorable or Medical. My son is still distraught. I am a Disabled Vet and the mother of a young black male, who has never been to jail, does not drink or do drugs. He does not have any children, he has a steady job, and is a real role model, always speaking highly of the military. Though I am a disabled veteran, I am very disappointed in how the Marines has treated my son. He really enjoyed the Marines, the brotherhood. He has never had a relationship with his dad, and the Marines gave him a sense of being. I have 3 words for the Marines and the Department of Navy…Shame! Shame! Shame!

  12. Alan Landman February 26, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    I am a 100 present disabled Vietnam Nam veteran. I was a door gunner on Uh1 ( Huey) helicopter. As such we landed in numerous locations that had been defoliated by agent orIrange. Multiple symptoms resulting from agent orange progressed while I was trying to raise a family. After hundreds of trips to VA clinics and what seems like hundreds of letters finally zI received 100 percent disability. It took 45 years. I suppose they figured I would not live longer anyhow. PTSD was an other issue for another time.

  13. LARRY LONG February 26, 2016 at 2:29 pm


  14. Jonathan G February 26, 2016 at 1:54 pm

    I have been going to the Atlanta VA for over 15 years for my health care. I has improved over the years and is more like a typical medical facility. I do have complaints about the time it takes to see specialists at the Atlanta VA. I remember when I would go to the Atlanta VA with my grandfather back in the late 70’s early 80’s and it would be an all day wait. Things have definitely improved since those days.

  15. David Weible February 26, 2016 at 1:51 pm

    I can not thank the Long Beach VA enough for all they have done for me. They have given me my life back. Even during some rough times ( depression ) they were there for me. The VA is the only place that understands PTSD.
    Thank you,
    David Weible
    Retired Vietnam veteran

  16. Robert Dawson February 26, 2016 at 1:50 pm

    I have had many issues with the VA, either great or the exact opposite, bad. I do appreciate the fact they are understaffed, underfunded, and yes, there are those that should only be caring for animal’s. But through my years as a VA patient, since 1988, I have made excellent relations with many of the Doctor’s and especially many of the nurses. But, I have had the unfortunate luck to get some terrible care by both. In just one case, I was having a fusion done at the lumber area and tthey were going thru my stomach to do it. They cut me in the wrong place and caused a huge ventral hernia. This was caused by the team that opened me up, not my neurosurgeon. If this would have happened at a civilian hospital, I would have a wing named after me. I am happy for those men and woman who have had excellent service, but please remember your brothers and sisters who have not. Not all VA Hospital’s are the same. Yes, give accolades to those who deserve it, but do not say that all VA’s are the same, they are not. I am 100% disabled, have had a total of 20 surgeries, and have been to many VA hospital’s and clinics. Some of both are near and dear to my heart, but unfortunately, for the most part, I wish to forget some of the treatment I received from them. So if you as a veteran that is getting the treatment they deserve, that is fantastic. But please do not let this lull you into the fact that the VA has many problems. Many Veterans have died that should not have if they were in the civilian community.

  17. frank urbanek February 26, 2016 at 1:35 pm

    I get very good care at the John D. Dingell VA. MED Center Been going ther sinc 2012 in Detroit Mi. they took care of my cancer attributed to agent orange and are taking care of ther issues I just wish more doctors would sign on we vets need you

  18. Etta February 26, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Well, the VA finally did SOMETHING! God Bless, Vernell! Remember your brothers and sisters in Arms love you. Glad you got your wish.

  19. Joseph Anthony Smith February 26, 2016 at 12:34 pm

    The VA hospital in Baltimore MD is my first experience with the VA and I have to say I have been impressed with the help I recieved. I have never had a bad experience and would recommend this facility to any veteran. I had back and neck surgery and the care I was privileged to was nothing short of excellent. 5th floor ICU Spine Unit did an excellent job from start to finish. If I had to do it again I’d go to the same place. PACT Team 3 and ICU 5th floor

  20. Kathleen Baker February 26, 2016 at 12:15 pm

    After all the negative I have seen regarding the VA, this was great!
    Kathy Baker, Tsgt, USAFR Retired

  21. Frank D Cramer February 26, 2016 at 12:02 pm

    The Department of Veterans Administration Health Care System is the best hospital system in the United States if not the world. And the Bay Pines VA Health Care System at Bay Pines, Florida, leads the way! It’s time that the veterans under their care and expertese start fighting for the people that fight for our lives everyday, and then some, as obvious by the countless stories of VA personell going above and beyond their field of expertese to enrich and enhance the lives of the men and women under their care.

  22. Brian Wiggans February 26, 2016 at 11:50 am

    Semper Fi Marine, hope this ride was the best ya ever had.
    im sure you touched every riders heart and mind that day.
    I suffer from severe PTSD anxiety and depression, it was rough for alot of years then i finally went to my local VA for help no one there looked down on me like i thought they might do cause i was asking for help with something i couldnt control anymore on my own, it was one of the best days ive had since i had to retire a few years back.

  23. Steve Page February 26, 2016 at 11:48 am

    God bless America and our Armed Forces past and present….I have a few issues due to Agent Orange…..Articles like this are an inspiration to all Vets. not to give up. There is always hope.
    May God Bless you with an everlasting assurance of a blessed immortality…

  24. Tony Tharp February 26, 2016 at 11:47 am

    If I have to explain would not understand!

    • Timothy Edward Chapman February 26, 2016 at 8:15 pm

      Sir I hope those Nurses had to go to jail. I was in desert storm/shield

  25. Burt Klein February 26, 2016 at 11:20 am

    In 1979 I was in a VA hospital where the nurses cared so much that a veteran bled to death standing in front of their station while they were on break. They were playing cards, laughing and enjoying themselves and ignoring him. His implant for dialysis was leaking and he could not get them to pay any attention to him. This was their normal procedure while on break. If you were on fire they would probably simply have looked on until that break time was over. They also handed out Thorazine to keep us nice and peaceful so that all we did was smoke cigarettes and watch whatever they wanted to watch on the only television in the area. I spent 40 years paying for all my own care through private insurance while I worked until my service related problems forced me to stop working. So no, my fellow brother or sister in arms, I will not give them a break because they do not deserve one. It is a bureaucracy that protects its own even when it kills patients. I don’t care much for Fox News either but at least they dug into the story more than others who were happy to shove it under the rug. Vastly overpaid bureaucrats with no accountability because they have political protection should not be in charge of our care. Put some veterans in the loop and let them report to Congress on what is really happening in the hospitals and then put the perpetrators in prison where they belong. The VA is a national disgrace.

    • Theresa Boracci February 27, 2016 at 12:35 pm

      Burt, I am sorry that it was that bad but that was over 30 years ago. It has improved tremendously!

      I was seeing Pysch services in Albuquerque and noticed that all of the patients were thorazine zombies. I filed a complaint with the patient rep and got the head of Psychiatric Services fired for over-medicating her patients. I have also filed complaints against an orthopedic surgeon for making sexist comments (women should have a husband to take care of them, male veterans get priority, women shouldn’t be taking jobs away from a man) . He was fired. The patient representatives are there to help.

  26. James A Garlans February 26, 2016 at 11:16 am

    I totally agree. I don’t listen to FOX News, in fact news reporting got so bad I cancelled my cable tv services. I use the VA at two local clinics with higher level services in West Palm Beach. I an. VN Combat Vet, and only got into the VA in 2013. These folks are wonderful, and I find it hard to understand that every VA staff member I have met is always polite, with a smile and genuinely appears very eager to help. Tell all those in Congress to leave the VA alone. I never saw this treatment using my companies health plan.

  27. Alonzo Jacobs February 26, 2016 at 10:35 am

    God Bless You Vernell, Semper Fi Marine

  28. thomas gomez sr February 22, 2016 at 11:13 pm


    • Kevin L February 26, 2016 at 11:56 am

      What you been drinking?

    • Robert Shaver February 26, 2016 at 4:14 pm

      They have been great for ME. But I know we have friends that a not taken care of. One service-member down is not to be left behind! I am sure the CEO and other high ranking people draw a really big wage. But what about the bottom of the latter?

    • Thomas Decker February 26, 2016 at 4:55 pm

      Agree. VA is doing best it can. And, they did right by the USMC’s Holderfield.

    • Scott February 26, 2016 at 7:35 pm

      The people at the VA have taken care of me, it is our government that lets us down. There was a time when many served this country, now just 80 of the 447 people that make up the three branches of government have known what it means to have served this country. Most are too busy fighting each other for political point over ideology and not for the things that really matter to us and the general public.

      I salute those that now serve the people that served this country under difficult conditions.

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