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A Struggle To Remember

South Dakota is the place where great Americans are honored with mountaintops. And it was in Custer County where fate led CBS News Correspondent Steve Hartman to carve the story of Vernon Hagen, an everyday hero.


The 76-year-old lives with his camera-shy wife Florence. They've been married 53 long years.

You'd think after 53 years there wouldn't be anything left to fight about. But Vernon Hagen says with a laugh that if you do, you probably haven't been married.

And so they argue:

He says: "We ate beef last night!"

She says: "We had soup last night."

Their fights are usually frivolous. But what is significant is that all too often, Vernon Hagen loses.

"Well he's so proud, you know. He pretends he's just as robust as he can be. But he isn't anymore," says his wife.

Vernon Hagen was a very bright young man. He got two master's degrees, worked as a science teacher, school superintendent and finally a museum educator. Today it's scary the things he still remembers.

As he looks through his window he says, "That's 6,116 feet to the top of that," pointing at a mountain.

But even scarier are the things he doesn't remember.

When asked how many kids he had, his mind finds it hard to recall.

"It hurts a lot, and you don't know what to say to him. I don't know what to say to him anymore, says his wife.

Florence Hagen says she started noticing changes in her husband about three years ago. And when it started getting worse this year, it gave her reason for concern.

She began prodding her husband to see a doctor. But he has so far refused for his own good reason.

"Well, to admit that one is forgetful is deflating," notes Vernon Hagen.

And doctors say that's why so many seniors ignore the symptoms or hide them with giggles.

There's when he brings his wife a loaf of bread, and she has to remind him she wanted a smaller loaf.

While he just laughs at his mistake, she just finds herself talking to him like a child.

Vernon Hagen insisted it was just old age. And yet deep down he must have doubted it. Because the day after Hartman left with his crew, he called that doctor who immediately put him on some medicine often used to treat Alzheimer's.

For Florence Hagen it was a relief to finally win her most important fight ever. Now she just prays that her husband can win his.

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