WWII veteran claims local hospital has banned him
By RENE RAY DE LA CRUZ | Daily Press, Victorville, Calif. | Published: March 18, 2017
APPLE VALLEY, Calif. (Tribune News Service) — A Purple Heart recipient and World War II POW who was rescued from Austria's Stalag-17 by Gen. George Patton claims he's being denied access to a local medical facility.
Retired U.S. Army Air Corp Tech Sgt. John Sarico, 94, who was shot down during a bombing run over France in 1944, claims that officials at St. Joseph Health, St. Mary have denied him access to the medical center's property.
For nearly 20 years, Sarico has received treatment and has helped patients as a volunteer assistant at the Cardiac/Pulmonary Rehabilitation Department at the medical center on Highway 18 in Apple Valley.
Anne Sarico told the Daily Press her father's medical center volunteer ID was recently "confiscated" by a hospital security guard who told the veteran he could no longer be on the property.
"The rehab department is like my family," said John Sarico, who sat in a room adorned with medals, awards and commendations from local, state, federal, nonprofit and medical officials. "I don't know what I'll do if I can't be on hospital property."
Hospital spokesman Ryan Orr told the Daily Press that "St. Joseph Health, St. Mary treats their volunteers with the same dignity and respect as their staff."
"As part of this promise, we protect their privacy, and do not comment on the details of their service," said Orr, in an email received Friday. "In terms of patients, we do not deny access to care to anyone on an emergent basis."
Anne Sarico said she believes the riff with the medical center began about two months ago when her father had a "run in" with a hospital employee in the rehab center.
"My dad was concerned about a patient on a treadmill that wasn't being monitored correctly by a medical attendant," Anne Sarico said. "He told me he corrected the employee for their lack of attentiveness and left for the day."
Medical officials told Anne Sarico her father had an "outburst" at the rehab center and they were "concerned" for the safety of their staff and patients. They also said having him on the property was a "liability."
"My father had a six-main artery bypass at age 76 and he's been working out at the rehab center regularly for the last 18 years," Anne Sarico said. "He also volunteers on a regular basis at the center and people just love him."
John Sarico began volunteering at the medical center soon after his wife, Edith, passed away. A small memorial to his wife sits in front of the veteran's fireplace, which includes a crucifix, flowers, dolls, angel figurines and letters that celebrate the couple's 35 years of marriage.
Anne Sarico said Friday marked the one-month anniversary since John Sarcio last worked out at the rehab center, adding that she's concerned for the health and well being of her father.
"He risked his life on the battlefield to save the lives of others, now he's being denied the one thing that gives him life," she said. "I don't want his spirit broken by not having access to his friends and those people that he loves to serve."
Anne Sarico is working with her father's physician to get the veteran into some physical therapy. She has also contacted the California State Office of Health Information Integrity.
In an earlier interview with the Daily Press, Rebecca Miranda, director of volunteer services, said John Sarico is a household name and a celebrity at the medical center.
"I think John is the most tenderhearted and giving volunteer that has been here," Miranda said. "He has touched so many live here. He truly is a legacy."
Miranda's sentiments were echoed by the dozens of well wishes from medical center staff that were handwritten on a large poster-size birthday card hanging next to his military honors inside the veteran's home.
During a bombing run over France in 1944, John Sarico was severely burned while trying to help a belly-gunner out of his turret while fuel poured directly onto a white-hot exhaust section of the aircraft that was hurtling toward earth.
"He was burned pretty badly, and we were the last two that bailed out of the bomber before it went down," said John Sarico in a 2012 interview with the Daily Press. "The Germans captured me and I spent 13 months with 4,000 other prisoners. It literally was hell on earth."
During the spring of 1945, the Germans marched the prisoners 281 miles west, as American and Russian armies began to close in from different directions. "Next thing we knew, the Germans surrendered to us and we were free," John Sarico said.
"My father has lived quite the life and he still wants to serve others," Anne Sarico said. "We're hoping that St. Mary's will have a change of heart."
©2017 Daily Press, Victorville, Calif.
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