Retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. and Haven Hospice Veteran Volunteer Mike DelPizzo stands in the garden at the Haven Hospice Custead Care Center in Orange Park.

Local Veteran Pays It Forward in Big Ways

Orange Park, Florida (Nov. 7, 2014)—Even though it’s been almost 15 years since Mike DelPizzo retired from the U.S. Air Force as master sergeant with 22 years of service, he still feels it’s his duty to continue serving by finding ways to honor his fellow veterans.

“Being a veteran is part of my life and why I have decided to pay it forward by continuing to serve in my civilian life,” said DelPizzo, a skilled woodworker who builds urns in his garage workshop. He then donates the urns to the Missing in America Project and the Jacksonville National Cemetery so that the cremated remains of veterans who have been unclaimed can be properly laid to rest during a military ceremony. To date, he has made 171 urns and serves as a pallbearer during the ceremonies.

In addition to this work, DelPizzo recently became a Haven Hospice veteran volunteer. The not-for-profit, community hospice provider believes it’s important to remember that veterans also deserve recognition and compassionate care at the end of life’s journey. Through the We Honor Veterans program, DelPizzo is able to help recognize Haven veteran patients by facilitating veteran-to-veteran certificate presentations and pinning ceremonies.

“One of my favorite parts of the ceremony is when I get to put my hat on, stand at attention and salute that veteran one last time,” said DelPizzo who is in full dress blues during the veteran-to-veteran ceremonies. “My fondest memory was when one of the veterans I saluted attempted to salute me back. It was a touching moment for me and the family.”

He has also created iron garden signs that represent each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces which are placed with an American flag around the garden at the Haven Hospice Orange Park Custead Care Center.

“I think they are an interesting way to remind us of those in our armed forces and say thank you to the veterans,” said DelPizzo. “We have a big military presence in this area and it’s just one more way to honor them and keep them in mind.”

“The work load is busy and there is no end in sight, but I am honored and privileged to provide these services,” said DelPizzo who works at AT&T when he is not woodworking or volunteering. “I will continue as long as there is a need, and there will always be a need.”

Whether it’s a loved one or a stranger, DelPizzo encourages everyone to show their gratitude by saying a simple “thank you for your service” the next time you see a veteran.