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Published: Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 12:01 a.m.

Picture book can jog veterans' memories

Camano Island man's book can help those with dementia.

  • Dan Koffman's book helps bring back the memories of veterans suffering from dementia. The book is illustrated with iconic images such as the boots on ...

    Dan Koffman's book helps bring back the memories of veterans suffering from dementia. The book is illustrated with iconic images such as the boots on the cover. (Michael O'Leary / The Herald)

CAMANO ISLAND -- Dan Koffman likes to tell the story of one 92-year-old military veteran whose family got a copy of his latest picture book.
The elderly gentleman, who served in North Africa during World War II, hadn't said much in years, owing in part to his dementia.
The man saw the picture of a canteen in Koffman's book, "Life in the U.S. Military: Images for Reflection and Reminiscence for Veterans with Memory Loss."
"In that moment, his family recognized him," Koffman said, "because he lit up, laughed and started talking about how it was as hot as blue blazes in Egypt when he served there, and how he emptied his canteen while riding a stinky camel through the pyramids. His reaction was magic."
Koffman, 61, a longtime artist, designer and marketer who lives on Camano Island, is on his way this week to San Antonio, Texas, where he plans to talk about his book to an audience of VFW auxiliary members at the national Veterans of Foreign Wars convention. There he hopes people will join his crusade to get the picture book into the hands of more than a half-million veterans -- from World War II to Afghanistan -- who have memory loss.
Dr. Nina Tumosa, a physician who specializes in geriatrics at St. Louis University in Missouri, considers the book wonderful. It includes simple pictures of boots, bugles and buzz cuts, among many other images familiar to veterans.
"The chaplains in our clinic frequently pull the book out in order to communicate with people, and the young clinicians learn a little bit about war," Tumosa said. "Especially if you are skilled in using the book, you can help a lot of people who are depressed by their memory loss."
While some of the images in the book might have more meaning to World War II, Korean and Vietnam war veterans, people returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with brain injuries also could benefit from the book, Tumosa said.
"I think it will become well-used," she said.
Bill Morse, 71, a Vietnam veteran who served in the Navy, agrees.
A VFW member in Arlington, Morse said he has encouraged Hoffman to get his book out to veterans.
"For the average person, it's a bunch of pictures. But if you look at it from the perspective of a combat veteran, there are many things that readily bring back sad remembrances and fond memories," Morse said. "Any vet with post traumatic stress disorder and depression would benefit from having the book. It is a tool for helping people come back."
At their studio on Camano, Hoffman and his wife, Sandy, are passionate about creating art that makes people smile. A longtime peace activist, Hoffman has created other picture books, including one about food, for people with memory loss.
Hoffman's dad, a World War II veteran, died about 20 years ago after suffering from dementia for 10 years. Hoffman's mom spent all her time during those last years caring for her husband and she died about six months after he passed away.
It is for them that Hoffman published "Life in the U.S. Military."
"As the VFW Auxiliary women say, we need to honor the dead by serving the living," Hoffman said. "We need more materials to help families. People just want something to help their loved ones and have a little respite for themselves -- a key to unlock those stories that help them reconnect."
Koffman sells his book online and has a place on his website, www.lifeintheusmilitary.com, where people can donate the $25 it takes to get the picture book into the hands of a veteran with memory loss.
"This is something positive we can all help do," Hoffman said. "I just wish I could have shared this with my own father. While in the service he wrote manuals for GIs coming home with war injuries. In a way I am continuing his work."
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.
Story tags » ArlingtonCamano IslandStanwoodU.S. Military

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