Schaumburg veteran brings relief to others with comfort dog Blitz

Vietnam veteran Bob Royce of Schaumburg has regularly volunteered his time in a variety of ways during the decade since his retirement, but he especially enjoys how one of his efforts brings immediate relief to people in turmoil.

As the handler of comfort dog Blitz, Royce visits Hines Veterans Affairs Hospital at least twice a month as a volunteer for Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry.

"That's the one I find most gratifying," Royce said. "If I lived closer (to Hines), I'd be going more often."

Five years ago, Royce accepted a request by the president of the ministry to go through the training program with a 10-week-old golden retriever pup named after a military dog killed in Vietnam in 1967. The program is primarily intended to be a ministry by veterans for veterans, but also responds to other requests to provide assistance for people experiencing emotional stress or grief.

"We only go where we're invited. We don't just show up," Royce said. "My favorite thing is just going to Hines and seeing patients and putting a smile on their face. Seeing what other veterans are going through, it makes me feel good to help them."

One example that stands out in Royce's memory was a veterans gathering in or near Lisle that was attended by a soldier who'd recently returned from a high-stress deployment. Seeing the man sitting on the ground, Blitz sensed a need in him and went to be petted.

"He was sitting on the ground and smiling and crying," Royce said. "His wife said later that that was the first time he'd smiled in a month. The kids loved it, and the wife had a tear in her eye."

Patients at the veterans hospital who miss their own dogs are especially touched by Blitz's presence. One woman in the mental health ward who initially professed a fear of dogs built up enough courage to tentatively pet Blitz, and within 10 to 15 minutes she had the lab on her lap, Royce said.

Blitz technically belongs to the ministry, which puts no obligation on its handlers to house the dogs or maintain a commitment for the entire life of a dog. But from Blitz's perspective, she is his.

"I will never give her up," Royce said. "She's part of the family now."

His other forms of volunteerism include helping out at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Schaumburg, especially with building maintenance; feeding the farm animals once a week at the Schaumburg Park District's Spring Valley Heritage Farm; activities with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2202, including marching in the recent Septemberfest parade; and responding to natural disasters when needed through the Lutheran Early Response Team.

Royce was working for the telephone company in 1968 when, convinced he was going to be drafted, he enlisted in the Army. He served in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970, trained as a radiotelephone operator and carried the equipment on his back during patrols. Operators were strategic targets for enemy soldiers, Royce said.

Back home, he resumed his job with the telephone company, got married, and had two children. He ultimately worked for the same company for 39 years, being recalled to the job after his first attempt to retire.

Volunteerism has filled his days ever since, including seeing off Honor Flight participants with Blitz at Midway International Airport at 4 a.m. Wednesday before one of his regular visits to Hines Hospital. He makes an additional trip to the hospital every three months for memorial services honoring former patients.

"If I can just make someone else feel a little bit better, it makes me feel better," Royce said.

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  Vietnam veteran Bob Royce of Schaumburg volunteers in many ways, including as the handler of comfort dog Blitz for Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry. He and Blitz talk to Johnny Parker, an Army veteran who lives in Chicago, while visiting Hines VA Hospital Wednesday. Brian Hill/
  Vietnam veteran Bob Royce of Schaumburg, standing, watches as the Rev. Dan Ayers of Hines blesses his comfort dog, Blitz. Brian Hill/
  Comfort dog Blitz, of Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry, waits patiently for her handler, Vietnam veteran Bob Royce of Schaumburg, on Wednesday at the Hines VA Hospital Wednesday. Brian Hill/
  Hines VA Hospital is one of the most frequent destinations for comfort dog Blitz of Lutheran Church Charities Kare 9 Military Ministry and her handler, Vietnam veteran Bob Royce of Schaumburg. Brian Hill/
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