Even in dementia, Korean War medic cares for his men

(CBS News) NORTHPORT, N.Y. - It's a story that makes you think, "What are the chances?" It started with a mystery at a nursing home we visited, "On the Road."

John Angerame says when you love someone with advanced dementia -- like his father has -- you can't help but wonder: Are they still in there?

John asks his dad Augie for even the littlest signs that he's present, like a wink or blink.

Fortunately, although Augie can't communicate, by all indications he is aware -- beyond words.

Augie Angerame served in the Korean War, in an artillery unit. He was a medic, which may partly explain his recent behavior at his VA nursing home on Long Island.

A few months ago, Augie started going into the room of another veteran with dementia named Frank Dibella.

"And I was like, 'What's this man doing?'" recalled Frank's daughter, Mary Rose Monroe. "He'd rub his back and then he'd walk away."

"Just check on him," John Angerame added, "like maybe a medic would do as he made rounds."

The kids agreed: It seemed like Augie was trying to care for Frank -- like he was back in the war. Frank didn't seem to mind. The staff eventually moved the two men into the same room.

And that's when John started putting the pieces together.

"I was looking for something. I had this feeling," he said.

He looked at the old war photos on Frank's bulletin board and noticed something. The buildings in the background -- the clapboard - he'd seen that before. He found the same buildings in the background in his dad's photo album.

Frank Dibella
Frank Dibella is seen serving as a cook on the front lines during the Korean War.
CBS

"And I stepped outside for a few minutes and on the door it said Frank Dibella."

The name might not have clicked for him before, but suddenly, "It just flashed."

His dad had talked about a Frank Dibella -- the cook in his unit.

"He said Frank had a penchant for getting steaks and food that they normally don't eat," John Angerame said.

"Oh yeah," said Mary Rose Monroe. "He loved cooking for the guys."

Apparently Frank even brought steaks to the front lines. Cooks didn't have to go to the front lines but Frankie was no coward. Once he even got injured by a bomb blast. And guess who cared for him?

Then and now.

"Sixty years later," John said, "Still checking on his guys."

"They reach for each other," said Mary Rose.

They call Korea "the forgotten war." But here are two people who remember perfectly. And certainly if they can -- so should we.

To contact On the Road, or to send us a story idea, e-mail us.

  • Steve Hartman

    Steve Hartman has been a CBS News correspondent since 1998, having served as a part-time correspondent for the previous two years.

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