His Last Season

img027Homer Armstrong was a Seattle Seahawks lifer. He had lived and died with their wins and losses since the day the team first took to the artificial turf, in 1976, the inaugural year of Seattle’s Kingdome. His love for the team grew into season tickets while they played at the Kingdome. Homer later joined the Seahawks’ cheering, record-setting fans at their new home at CenturyLink Field, and watched the team come to life as a championship franchise.

The former Navy Veteran possessed an infectious enthusiasm for the Seahawks, even in their non-winning seasons. Darlene, Homer’s wife, dressed the kids, grandkids, and even the great grandkids, in Seahawks gear. They managed to convert most of them into lifelong fans of the team.

Many have cheered on the Seahawks throughout the years, some of them coming on board as fans during their most prolific season ever, the one that brought the famed “12th Man” a championship. But, few fans have as great a story of devotion to one team as Homer.

Homer was known as a quiet, peaceful man. Friends and family described him as “a gentleman,” “respectful” and “kind.” His military career started in the Navy shipyards in Bremerton, Washington, where he worked as a shipfitter. Homer would later close out his professional life as a logging truck driver hauling Douglas fir and cedar from the heavily carpeted, virgin forests of South Central Washington. Both of these professions provided a satisfying life, Darlene recalled.

“But, he lived for Sundays,” she said. “We all did.”

Whether Homer was attending games in his earlier years or later watching from home, as congestive heart failure slowly strangled his ability to get around, he embodied the spirit of the “12th Man.” The 12th Man is a concept embraced by the Seahawks’ faithful that describes the fans’ role as a 12th man on the field, due to their powerfully loud cheering and its impact on the game. Homer possessed that kind of enthusiasm for the ’Hawks, and many believed he took it a step further.

Dr. Iris Tio-Matos, a geriatric physician at the American Lake Division Community Living Center, not far from where Homer had made his home, remembers what it was like when the Veteran was first admitted as a patient to the center.

“His room became like a teenager’s,” recalled the doctor who had cared for Homer for the last 15 years, “[with] posters of Seahawks, their schedule, banners, [and] stuff everywhere that was Seahawks.”

Dr. Tio-Matos knew she always could stop by Homer’s room to learn the score of the last game or the start time for the upcoming one. Other caregivers echoed those thoughts about Homer and noted he was always so positive, even in light of a Seahawks loss.

“He would say, ‘we’ll get the next one,’” said VA registered nurse Teri Hernandez, one of Homer’s caregivers. “But he was always so excited because of all the wins this year.” Hernandez didn’t come into the VA system as a full-fledged Seahawk fan, but she certainly became one after spending time with Homer. As one of his consistent caregivers, Hernandez had long chats with Homer about the team. Even when the Seahawks played her beloved New Orleans Saints, she didn’t let on that she was rooting for both teams. She wanted Homer to feel great about his home team.img026

In spite of times of great pain, Homer was in good spirits as a result of the Seahawks’ wins. His life was slowly slipping away, but you would never have known it. Dr. Tio-Matos talked of the men and women of the World War II generation and how they rarely complain about anything. She said Homer never complained about his health and was the first to ask how someone else was doing.

Homer’s wife Darlene shared those sentiments and recalled that Homer could have easily protested over events in his life. He could have complained about having had to drag bodies out of the bloody water while on the beaches at Normandy, where he was first sent as a sailor. He could have expressed how much he was bothered about how congestive heart failure left him bound to an oxygen bottle for much of his life. But he didn’t. He instead focused on the things in life that he cherished, his family and friends…and those Seahawks.

Homer shared that joy with anyone who would listen. He received a wheelchair soon after his arrival at the Community Living Center in Tacoma, Wash. He didn’t take to it at first, but soon learned how to navigate it. Then he was off, up and down the halls rallying the other Veterans and staff to support his ’Hawks.

Then came the playoff run toward the ultimate prize, to play in the Super Bowl.

As 12th Man acceptance grew in the region and throughout the country, no one could have been more of a 12th Man than Homer.

“He literally couldn’t wait for the playoffs,” said Darlene. “He was so excited, you could see it in his eyes … they would light up when you talked about it.”

The Seahawks marched through the playoffs and onto the biggest stage in American sports. On Super Bowl Sunday, the center staff – knowing this might be one of the last games that Homer would see –put on a food spread worthy of the big day. Wings, sausage and a cake in the shape of the Seahawks’ CenturyLink Field, complete with Skittles, were enjoyed by all.

In spite of the day’s excitement and cheering, Darlene knew that something was not right.

darleneReduced1“I looked in his eyes – something was different,” she said of her husband of nearly 50 years. ”He was a tough old guy and didn’t complain, so I didn’t think much of it.”

With the Super Bowl win final, Homer told his wife he didn’t think he would have ever lived long enough to see the Seahawks win the big game. “He was just so extremely happy about it,” Darlene recalled.

The party died down and everyone made their way home. Homer went back to his Seahawk-adorned room for a night of sleep after the satisfying win.

It was the final game for Homer. Later that night, he suffered a massive heart attack. The next morning, family, staff and fellow Veterans wept at losing Homer. But, they cheered his spirit and all knew that he had passed after getting the win of his life.

“He waited until that game,” said Dr. Tio-Matos. “He had to see that win before he went.”

darlene Reduced2A four-story, glass-enclosed entry is the main artery in and out of the center where Homer passed. On a nondescript Monday, staff, Veterans and family members lined the enormous echoing hallway for the “final salute.” The music of “Anchors Aweigh” drifted quietly across the still assembly.

Draped in an American flag, Homer’s body was pushed down the hallway, slowly.

His fellow Veterans saluted when the procession reached the gathering, and a visiting general cut through the near silence, saying, “A hero has left his post.” The procession continued out of the corridor and into the gray morning air.

Homer’s caregiver, Nurse Teri, led the way – waving the 12th Man flag.

 

Editor’s note: This story originally appeared on VA Puget Sound’s website.

HutsonbwfrChad Hutson joined VA as the public affairs officer for the VA Puget Sound health Care System in October, 2013. A former journalist, he has spent the past 25 years in health care marketing and communications in the private sector. He joined the federal government in 2007 as director of CDC’s mine safety and health research communication team. 

 

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5 Comments to “His Last Season”

  1. Andrea Kemp says:

    Beautiful story. Thank you.

  2. PAUL TENENBAUM says:

    AS A DISABLED KOREAN WAR VETERAN, I COULD FEEL HOW HOMER MUST HAVE FELT. THE STORY IS HE NEVER COMPLAINED. THIS IS MOST UNUSUAL. BUT WHAT BOTHERS ME MOST THAT, APPARANTLY, THE NAVY DID NOT RECOGNIZE HIS HEROISM. PULLING OUT DEAD SOLDIERS FROM THE WATER AT NORMANDY BEACH WAS LIKE A SURGEON WHO MUST BE STRONG WHEN CUTING INTO THE BODY. WAS THERE NO PROMOTON, A MEDAL? WELL,
    GENTLEMEN OF THE DEPARTMENT INVOLVED, YOU CAN STILL DO THE RIGHT THING. THEY ARE EITHER THE LAZIEST BUNCH OR THEY TAKE TOO MANY LUNCH BREAKS. I AM ANGRY AND I HOPE TO SEE A FOLLOW UP.

  3. John Sharp, USAFSS says:

    10-4 Good Buddy..We’ll KEEP on Keepin’ On..

  4. Mike Jarrett says:

    It sounds like I would have loved to have met Homer even though I am a life long Vikings fan. I just like being around good people and Homer definitely had to be a good person from just what I have read ! Homer will now be cheering as the 12th man from heaven.

  5. William Rivera SSG. USA says:

    Homer, Man you where the best my friend. I would love to have by my side in war time because, I know that you and me will give the enemy a hello of hard time. I am proud of you . I will meet you on the other side “Soldier”