Lifestyle & Human Interest

Vietnam Veteran Wanted Only 2 Things Before He Died: To Be Baptized and Catch 1 Last Fish


In the final days of his life, Vietnam veteran Connie Willhite left no unfinished business, caring for his spiritual and emotional health until the end.

It was 2016 when Willhite passed away, but the story of his final days in hospice still offer an important lesson to the rest of us.

Willhite, a U.S. Navy combat veteran, moved into Carl Vinson VA Medical Center in Dublin, Georgia, as his health began to fail.

Battling advanced colon cancer, Willhite knew his time on earth was limited. He shared his final two wishes with the VA staff: the first, to get baptized, and the second, to take one last fishing trip.

His caretakers went above and beyond to honor the veteran’s requests, first by planning a baptism service.

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Family members joined to witness the moment Willhite was baptized by VA chaplain Sam Scaggs, an event that Willhite said would help him “cross over” into life after death.

Hospice worker Greg Senters helped organize Willhite’s final fishing trip, complete with a specialized hospital bed that allowed Willhite to fish while he remained in bed.

“We can’t do a lot about the quantity of days you have but we can do a lot about the quality,” Senters told CNN in September 2016.

Initially, Senters was concerned that Willhite would be disappointed if he did not catch any fish at the nearby Lake Leisure. But he soon learned the veteran was not concerned with reeling in a fish as much as he simply wanted the outing.

“It’s called fishing, it’s not called catching,” Senters recalled Willhite telling him before the trip.

“So I told him we may not catch anything, but he said it doesn’t matter,” Senters told WGXA-TV. “He said just being out there doing this was just as good.”

As Willhite enjoyed the few precious hours he spent at the lake, Senters noticed a change in his patient’s demeanor.

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“All of a sudden, the cancer and everything else went away, and what you see is that precious few moments of someone really enjoying life,” Senters said.

Willhite, once an avid fisherman according to his family, caught four hand-sized fish on that day.

It was all he could talk about when his cousin, Lisa Kittrill, came for her daily visit.

“He talked and talked when I came in that day, and said he went fishing and got baptized, and for that I’m so glad,” Kittrill said.

Senters said that while most people think of hospice as synonymous with death, he views it as a way to savor life.

“A dying person can teach you a lot about living,” Senters told CNN. “Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day we forget about what’s important.”

Willhite died peacefully on Aug. 20, 2016, at the age of 68, just days after his final catch.

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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