‘MAKE YOUR BED,’ OTHER LIFE LESSONS FROM ADMIRAL HIT HOME WITH VETERANS IN VENTURA

Consider it a Father’s Day gift that became a most special delivery.

Lee Mills is an 86-year-old Korean War-era Navy veteran who lives at the Veterans Home of California-Ventura. As is the case with all eight homes in CalVet’s system, COVID-19 pandemic protocol prohibits visits from family and friends to the Ventura Home.

Consequently, Mills’ daughter, Lori Mills of Oakland sent him a book instead for Father’s Day. She had no way of knowing that “Make Your Bed/Little Things That Can Change Your Life … and Maybe the World,” by Admiral William H. McRaven, would make such an impact on her dad, scores of other veterans at the home, and connect them with the author as well.

Navy veteran Lee Mills with Home Administrator Julian Bond.

Yet, that is exactly what has happened.

 “I read the book and it was so inspirational,” said Lee Mills, who joined the Navy as a 17-year-old in 1952, served as a dental technician at San Francisco’s Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, and mustered out the day before he turned 21 in October 1955. “The first thing they taught is in the military was to ‘make your bed.’ If you don’t do it right, you do it over.”

McRaven’s book, he said, touched on so many things that apply to everyday life, that he began urging others at the Ventura Home to read it as well. To date, more than 30 veterans have done so, and have heeded McRaven’s advice by stepping up their exercise programs, or by looking for the positives despite the constraints of the pandemic on their daily lives.

It reminds them of their time in the military, and the self-discipline that benefited them all, Mills said, and “making the bed” is as much a metaphor as it was an order.

“It’s a simple task,” Mills said. “If you can’t do that, how are you going to do a more complicated one? Get up, make your bed, and whether the rest of the day is good or bad, at least you have a made-up bed to come home to.”

McRaven’s quote, “Never, ever quit,” spurred Mills to spend more time in the gym and master the speed (punching) bag.

Veterans and staff at the Ventura Home gather momentarily for a photo during the Navy Birthday celebration in October.

Yet another phrase from the book, “Don’t Ring the Bell,” resonated with a 90-year-old Ventura Home veteran whose grandson twice failed underwater demolition training before passing and went on to a 20-year career as a Navy Seal. In Seal training, “Ringing the Bell” means quitting. The veteran’s grandson refused to ring it.

“He was so proud of his grandson,” Mills said. “He read the book, loved it, and wanted to share that story.”

The book’s message is so profound that Administrator Julian Bond emailed McRaven to tell the admiral about the energy it has created among the Home’s veterans.

“The veterans within my charge have gravitated towards your book ‘Make Your Bed’ to include voting on your book being issued to each veteran coming into our home,” Bond wrote. “Sir, you have inspired a population to live life to the fullest from age 1 to 99 (actually have a 99-year-old WW2 veteran that walks 1 to 2 miles daily).“

Bond told McRaven that a word from him would work wonders for the veterans there. “It would mean so much to our residents for you to acknowledge our Ventura veterans, (with) a card, email or message – you have provided a 2nd wind to the veterans within my charge,” Bond wrote on September 9.

McRaven responded a day later, saying he would certainly send along thanks to the Ventura veterans for their service. A couple of weeks later, they received a package containing a letter of thanks, a photo of the Admiral, and a copy of his book.

“We would be thrilled if he came by and had lunch one day,” Mills thought wishfully.

All of this happening because Mills’ loving daughter – with whom he speaks unfailingly by phone every Monday morning – sent him (the book for) Father’s Day that is fast becoming the unofficial self-help guide for the Ventura veterans home.

A most special delivery, indeed.

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