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Meet Shirley, Navy Veteran

Alzheimer’s Family Center (AFC) serves a large number of military veterans. We are very happy and proud to serve our community’s aging servicemen and women through a unique contract with the Department of Veterans Affairs. Today, we would like to paint a portrait of Shirley, a female veteran who served in the Navy, and who was happily married to a seasoned Marine.

Anyone who has met Shirley knows that she is a very lovable, sociable person. She likes to sit with her friends at breakfast in the morning at AFC, and will gladly chat with you about various stories from her past in the Navy, or how she met her husband Saburo.

It was in Treasure Island in San Francisco, in the early 1950s, that Shirley started her career as a clerk typist for the Navy. “I always wanted to join the military, from the time I was a very little girl”, she recalls, “and the Navy took me! I had a great time and absolutely loved working there.” When asked why she loved it so much, she smiles and says: “Well, this is where I met Sammy!”

Sammy is Shirley’s nickname for her late husband Saburo, a Marine who grew up in Oahu, Hawaii. Shirley and Sammy were introduced by a friend at a dance in Treasure Island. “I got somebody I’d like you to meet. She’s a good gal!” their friend told Saburo. They hit it off, started dating, and got married soon after. They were very happy together, but their romance was not always easy.

“Saburo was Japanese”, Shirley explains, and when asked what it was like to be an interracial couple back then, she recalls: “It wasn’t pleasant! Most people would not say anything but their attitudes were very poor. It was post WWII, and Japanese people were discriminated against very badly. So, some people tried to put me on report for no other reason than me and Sammy loving each other.” After they got married, Saburo went overseas to serve over a year and a half while his wife stayed in the barracks. “We then had a beautiful daughter, Diana. She was such a Daddy’s girl!”. Shirley then left the Navy and started her own cleaning business, while her husband stayed in the Marine Corps for a lifetime career of nearly 30 years!

Shirley’s daughter Diana is also her primary caregiver. She explains: “We came to AFSC through the Department of Veterans Affairs, about a year and half ago. I own a pet shop, so when it got unsafe to leave mom on her own, I had to find a way to have her taken care of when I was at work.”

“We are very happy that the Department of Veterans Affairs sent us here. The staff is very engaging and mom likes that.”

“At first, the VA wanted to send a home caregiver for mom 9 hours a week, but this was not enough given my responsibilities and the number of hours I have to spend at the shop. I needed an adult day health care provider that would take care of her all day long, five days a week.”

Diana asked the VA for a dementia-specific center, and was referred to AFC. She says, “AFC was the only provider of this [dementia-
specific] kind in Orange County. We are very happy they sent us here.” When asked what makes this place a good fit for Shirley, she explains: “Mom is very sociable. She loves to talk, smile, and have a good time. The staff here is very engaging and she likes that. She also loves when the musicians come for music therapy, or the dogs for pet therapy. She LOVES dogs. We have 3 Dachshund puppies at home who sleep with her.”


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