Milwaukee VA Medical Center
Leaving a legacy: Painting salutes Veterans, VA
John Bosch knows he’s not long for this world.
The 94-year-old World War II Veteran has been a patient in the Milwaukee VA Medical Center’s palliative care unit for more than a year. He’s proud of his service and grateful for the care he has received at the Milwaukee VA.
And that’s why he commissioned his granddaughter to provide a legacy for both that will live on after he’s gone.
“I asked her to paint a picture for me to dedicate to the people here,” Bosch said. “The VA hospital has done a lot for me and other people. It’s a thank-you from our family.”
Haylie Ruelle, Bosch’s granddaughter, didn’t hesitate when her grandfather made his request. The 21-year-old Marquette University senior likes to dabble in art, and she was eager to give her grandfather a deserving legacy.
“I am incredibly proud of him,” Ruelle said. “I was really excited to do this.
“I’m not a person who is good with words. I use my art and creative side to say what I feel. To have him ask me made me feel respected, and I wanted to show him that his service means a lot.”
Between her studies, she found time to make her grandfather’s vision come to life.
She started with a drawing of an American flag surrounded by a few poppies. Bosch asked her to add more poppies, as Bosch said poppies represent those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.
“I wanted to give credit to everyone in this country who has fought in war,” he said.
The two continued to exchange ideas, and once the design was finalized, Ruelle began work on the final product.
She had to carve out time from her studies – she’s majoring in cognitive science, psychology and philosophy, with her eyes on becoming a marriage and family counselor – to work on the piece.
“It took me a couple of weeks, working on it off and on,” she said.
On Friday, Jan. 15, Ruelle was able to drop off the finished work at the hospital. Due to COVID restrictions, she wasn’t able to delivery it directly to her grandfather.
But the staff on the ninth floor gladly presented it to Bosch, which made for an emotional scene.
“He was very joyful at first,” said Joan Koehn-Fogl, program manager for the “Heroes Corner” area of 9C North. “We gathered the staff and presented him with the picture. He was beaming. He was very appreciative.
“At first he was smiling, then he was crying, overwhelmed with emotion.”
The painting will be hung in the unit, with a plaque denoting it as a gift in memory of Bosch from his family. The inscription will read: “Some may have fallen, but none are forgotten.”
“This is in appreciation of all the help and service I get,” Bosch said. “I just wanted to come up with something to give to the VA.”
This isn’t the first time Ruelle has worked with her grandfather on a creative project.
When she was in high school, she produced a video of Bosch talking about his experiences as a Veteran and the importance of Veterans being able to tell their stories. (You can view the video here.)
Bosch isn’t one of those Veterans hesitant to tell his story, In fact, he’s something of a legend on the ninth floor, ready to talk with anyone who will listen.
“He’s proud of his service to the country and the things he’s done with Veterans organizations and the Honor Flights,” Koehn-Fogl said.
Bosch went on the Honor Flight to Washington, D.C., in 2014. Afterward, he devoted his time to promoting the flights, taking part in fundraisers and speaking in schools about his service.
“We need to get the younger generation to realize those who fought the battles and those who didn’t come back,” he said.
When she was younger, Ruelle said she remembers visiting her grandfather and hearing his stories.
Now, she said she’s glad she can help preserve his legacy.
“This (painting) will always be there in memory of him,” she said.