Grandfather with Alzheimer’s gives Navy-bound grandson 1st salute

It was a salute with so much meaning.

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A Navy veteran who has Alzheimer’s disease recently had a proud moment, giving his grandson, who received his commission last month, the traditional first salute.

Nicholas Allen, 22, graduated from Cornell University last month. He had hoped that his grandfather, 78-year-old Gail Allen, would be able to travel from South Carolina to attend when he was commissioned in the U.S. Navy, “Good Morning America” reported.

Those hopes were dashed when Gail Allen was diagnosed last year with Alzheimer’s. But Nicholas Allen wanted his grandfather to be there when did his first salute, a tradition where a newly pinned officer receives the first salute from an enlisted member.

“It’s a really big deal,” Nicholas Allen, an ensign, told “Good Morning America” about the tradition. “It’s a sign of respect to be given the first salute.”

Gail Allen enlisted in the Navy out of high school and served for 13 years, leaving the service during the mid-1970s so he could gain custody of his two sons.

Nicholas Allen’s father, retired Lt. Col. Kenneth Allen, served 24 years in the U.S. Army and recalls his father’s sacrifice.

“He gave up his career for us,” Dr. Kenneth Allen, a physics and nuclear engineering professor at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, told “Good Morning America.” “He always talked about the Navy and was so proud of it that I decided I wanted to join the military, too.”

Nicholas Allen grew up hearing stories about his grandfather’s service in the Navy. He said he will be attending nuclear power school with the goal of working on a Navy submarine.

“My dad would tell the stories from my grandfather of his military time,” Nicholas Allen told “Good Morning America.” “When it came time, I decided I also wanted to be in the military. And I knew I liked engineering and knew that career path with submarines would be a good one to follow.”

So last week, Nicholas Allen stood in his grandfather’s backyard to receive his first salute. Radioman First Class Gail Allen was wearing his uniform for the first time in decades, his son said. It was the first time Gail Allen’s son and grandson had seen him in uniform.

“My mother was determined that there was no way my dad’s uniform was going to fit, and it fit perfectly,” Kenneth Allen told “Good Morning America.” “We put it on him and he came out and he was standing taller than he has in years. My mother was in tears.”

Kenneth Allen said that his father was still able to recognize his son and grandson, so that made the salute even more special.

“For those who have dementia there are good days and bad,” Kenneth Allen wrote in a LinkedIn post. ”This was a good day.”

“We’re at a good time to be able to share this and be together,” Kenneth Allen told “Good Morning America.” “I’m thankful that we captured the moment.”