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World War II Veteran Justus Belfield gave his final salute on Veterans Day.
The proud 98-year-old was too weak to leave his bed at Baptist Health Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for the nursing home’s veterans’ parade and luncheon, but there was no doubt he was there in spirit.
In honor of the day, he asked to be dressed in his olive green Army uniform, which he’d worn for every patriotic occasion since he and his wife, Lillian, moved to Baptist several years ago.
Christine Camp, who works in the center’s activities department, was with Belfield and his wife Tuesday morning. Sensing he was close to death, she decided to stay with the couple until other family members arrived.
“I could see him breathing and I leaned down and I looked at him and I said, ‘Happy Veterans Day. Thank you for your service,’” she recalled.
In response, he gave a slow but strong salute.
According to staff at Baptist, Belfield died early Wednesday morning.
While in the Army, Belfield took part in the Battle of the Bulge and earned the rank of master sergeant. He received several discharges over the years and each time, re-enlisted right away.
He told The Gazette last fall that he had no regrets about the sacrifices he made for his country.
“It was a good thing to do. I loved it because it was my country. It’s still my country,” he said in November of 2013. “I don’t like the president. I don’t like the way he handles things, but it’s still the United States. It’s still my country.”
He shared his spirit of patriotism and love of life with everyone he encountered. He’d walk the halls at Baptist, tooting the horn he had attached to his walker and flashing his smile.
“Every time he would come around he would beep, beep, beep, and the girls would say, ‘Hey, handsome!’ ‘Hello, beautiful,’ he’d say. That’s what the ladies up there [on his floor] miss,” Camp said.
At the center’s patriotic sing-along Sept. 11, Belfield was in full uniform. He stood and saluted through the entire rendition of “God Bless America.”
He liked to be called Jay, a nickname he was given when he was 7 years old growing up in Utica. Everybody messed up the spelling of his real first name anyway, he said back in 2013.
Baptist employees said Belfield was always giving out hugs and making people smile.
“He greeted every day,” said Camp. “We have residents who wake up and they’re like, ‘Dammit, I’ve got another day,’ and he would wake up and say, ‘Thank you, Jesus, for another day.’”
“He just had such a spark for life,” said Barbara Bradt, activities director at Baptist. “He taught me no matter how old you are, you keep going, you put a smile on your face and you just appreciate every day, because that’s what he did.”
Two Patriot Guard members who had become friends with Belfield visited with him on his final Veterans Day. One draped a flag over the armoire in his room.
When the veterans’ parade came down the hall Tuesday afternoon, the participants stopped and looked in on their fellow soldier.
After the festivities, Camp helped Belfield remove his Army jacket and he spoke to her.
“He says, ‘I’ve gotta go,’ and I said, ‘Where do you have to go?’ and he says, ‘Home,’” Camp recounted with tears in her eyes. “And I said, ‘It’s OK, Jay. You’ve had a long journey. Close your eyes. Go home.’”
A military graveside service will be held for Belfield at 10 a.m. Friday at Gerald B.H. Solomon Saratoga National Cemetery, 200 Duell Road, Schuylerville.
Arrangements are by Morris Stebbins Miner and Sanvidge Funeral Home in Troy.