Tena Quackenbush, 44, spend four years in the Marine Corps and learned her lessons well.
Especially the soldier’s creed that no fallen comrade is ever left behind.
She’s living that creed in her care for Scott Burns, a disabled Navy veteran.
Tena and Scott were neighbors five years in a low-income apartment complex on Colorado Springs‘ southeast side.
As veterans, they bonded quickly. Tena said Scott was just a nice guy and she had special sympathy for his disability, linked to his exposure to Agent Orange during his Vietnam War-era service.
It’s a tough neighborhood and Scott watched out for Tena and others, giving them rides and cooking for them on his beloved barbecue grill. He gave Tena a ride to her bartending job almost every night.
When Scott became ill about a year ago, and could no longer drive himself to the doctor, Tena stepped up to help. He didn’t have any family and she said it only right that she should return his many favors.
The news from the doctors was not good. A year ago, Scott was diagnosed with ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, an incurable degenerative disease that slowly cripples its victims and ends in death. It’s also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
As his condition rapidly deteriorated, Tena did what she learned in the Marines. She hoisted her fallen comrade.
“There was nobody else,” she said with a shrug.
In become Scott’s primary caregiver, Tena lost her own boyfriend: “He said he couldn’t handle it.”
Tena has soldiered on. She had to get Scott out of the cramped apartment, so she found a place in the Monument Creek Mobile Home Park and they moved in. She said it’s wide hallways and open floor plan accommodate his wheelchair.
And it seems to suit his three black cats: Liberty, Freedom and Justice.
Tena is living with him in the new place, providing around-the-clock care.
To make Scott comfortable, she hung his American flag on his bedroom wall. Then she searched the Internet for train buffs to help her build a model train she bought him.
“He loves trains and I wanted to put them around the house for him,” Tena said.
So she tracked down some train clubs — the Rocky Mountain G Scalers and the Slimrail Model Railway Club — whose members came running when she asked.
A team led by Ray Hoppes built an elevated train that runs the perimeter of Scott’s bedroom and Margaret Barber painted a scenic mural on the wall. They also built a table-top set that Scott can see from his bed.
As Tena praised them for their kindness, giving up their evenings to build Scott’s trains, Margaret turned the praise back on her.
“Tena is the hero here,” she said. “Not us. Make sure Tena is the hero of this story.”