About 150 staff members lined the hallways of Waxahachie's Baylor Scott & White Health in July as Gordon "Pat" Coughlin, Jr.'s flag-draped stretcher rolled by. With hands over their hearts, and Coughlin's wife Chrystyna Reymann following closely behind, the onlookers stood erect in total reverence.
The moving tribute is called Code Honor — the act of honoring U.S. military veterans who pass away at the hospital. Coughlin, 72, was proud of his four-year service in the Marines, which began in the 1970s while he was in college. He was medically discharged after breaking both his arms.
"The Code was unexpected, uplifting and for a moment I was just so proud," recalled Reymann as she forced back tears while sitting in a conference room at the hospital she got to know so well. "The chaplain stayed with you, and I guess I needed a chaplain real bad that day."
Code Honor has been a staple at the hospital for about a year. Chaplain Jerry Carter heads the program.
"For me to be involved in this is just one way of being able to say thank you to the people who have sacrificed and served our country," said Carter, sitting across from an emotional Reymann. "I highly respect those who have given of their lives, and in some cases their limbs, and they have sacrificed to serve our country and make sure we have the freedom to do the things that we do here."
Nearly 30 veterans have been honored since the launch of Code Honor, but the tributes don't start after they pass away. The servicemen and women are hailed for their sacrifices the moment they arrive at the hospital.
"When a veteran is admitted into the hospital, they have a little flag magnet, and it says 'Veteran' on it, and then they put it on the door, or outside the door, so that way any of the staff members know that there is a veteran there," said Matthew Olivolo, a media relations representative with Baylor Scott & White.
Employees, who themselves are veterans, play a huge role in the program's success. Their dedication and respect for their fellow first responders are impressive, Carter said.
"The veterans take this very seriously," added the chaplain, who has been with the institution since 1989. "We escort the body out of the hospital, and then before we put the body into the hearse, the veterans fold the flag and give it to the family members. [The veterans] have, on their own initiative, purchased white gloves that they wear while folding the flags."
"I've had people tell me that as the flag-draped stretcher goes down the hallway, they get a lump in their throat from just the experience of honoring one of our veterans," Carter further explained.
As proud as the veterans were to honor Coughlin, none could match Coughlin's pride. He wore his Marine Corps hat everywhere he went.
"He was the proudest marine," his wife recalled. "He talked about how wonderful it was, how proud he was of his service, how he wished he could have continued…"
Something else, however, continued. Coughlin and Reymann first started dating in college. They eventually broke up, and both joined the military. Reymann served as a nurse in the Army for three years. The lovebirds got back together in 1989, and their love story continued ever since without pause.
"He never forgot me. I never forgot him," Reymann said. "The second time around you just cherish that person even more."
The couple decided to officially tie the knot in 2003. Standing by her vows and her man, Reymann said she was with Coughlin through thick and thin, and in sickness and in health. Literally.
A long-time diabetes patient, the marine veteran's health took a turn for the worse nine years ago.
"In 2010 his diabetes had progressed, and he had a small wound, and with that he became septic, and so he lost his leg," Reymann explained. "He had a stroke in 2012, and then he has been on dialysis since 2017."
Even through her pain and grief, Reymann spoke highly of the care her husband received at Baylor Scott & White from the moment he arrived to the moment he left.
"I have to credit the doctors here," the grieving widow pointed out. "We loved the doctors so much that we picked them over doctors that we had been using that were all over the place. We really liked the emergency room care."
"I feel like everybody did all they could," Reymann added.
As Reymann spoke about her husband's life, she knew he lived a full one and accomplished many things. Born in Dallas, he grew up in Oak Cliff and graduated from William Hardin Adamson High School in 1964. He would later earn a bachelor's degree from the University of North Texas. He also completed studies in mechanics, naval air technical training and avionics.
Coughlin loved trains and had amassed a collection of over 900 books covering all railroads in the U.S. He also loved Corvettes and participated in Daytona 500 racing events.
"He went to all the races. He flipped his car five times," Reymann laughed. "He was that kind of a guy. He got all kinds of medals."
"He's a big talker. He liked to tell jokes," Reymann added. "He was funny. He was a very gentle person. He never got into fights or anything like that. He was very respectful. He was an amazing guy."
Coughlin leaves behind a host of family members and friends, including a sister, stepdaughter and several step-grandchildren.
Patrick Clarke | email@example.com