Several dozen Bartholomew County veterans will be getting cards in the mail over the next few days — Veterans Day cards.
These aren’t your Hallmark specials. They weren’t purchased in stores. They’re customized. The messages they convey are personal, intended only for the recipient.
In years past Jerry Combs has opened his mail to find a card with a helicopter as its focal point. The Columbus resident was a helicopter pilot in Vietnam.
The late Dr. Tom Orr once received a card featuring a photo of Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C. Orr was stationed at Walter Reed around the time the photo was taken.
Joe Baker found a photo of a ship on one of his cards. He had served aboard a similar craft during World War II. In his case that tour of duty lasted 22 months without the crew ever setting foot on land.
In a way the cards tell the stories of the local veterans, but for the one who sends them, the cards are her way of simply saying thank you to men and women who have served the country in the military.
Columbus retiree Shirley Brown has been sending the custom-made Veterans Day cards for more than 20 years now. It started small in 1991 when she sent personalized cards to her son, Jeffrey, and her three older brothers.
“Jeffrey served four years with the Air Force in Germany,” she recalled earlier this week. “I was only 2 years old when my brothers were called to duty during World War II. At one point all three were away from home at the same time.”
She made it a tradition the next year with the cards to her family members, but she added a couple of friends who were veterans. From that point forward it mushroomed. This year she will be sending cards to more than 60 men and women who served.
“I get a kick out of the fact that I’m sending cards to five women,” she said. “They range from Nancy Brown’s granddaughter (who is still in military service) to a woman who flew planes during World War II.”
Some of the cards won’t be going through the U.S. Postal Service.
“I still make up cards for those who have died,” she said. “When possible, I take the cards to the cemeteries and place them on the graves of the veterans.”
She’s been doing that for a former employer, J. Irwin Miller, every year since his death in 2004.
She has maintained her mailing list over the years, adding to it as she discovers friends or people she admires who had served in the military.
“In some instances, I’ve been surprised to find out that people I had known for years had served in the military,” she said. “You have to work really hard to find out who is a veteran because many of them don’t talk about their service.”
The cards do have an effect, even surprising former service members who had never been acknowledged for their service.
John Walter’s reaction to his first Veterans Day card from Shirley was typical.
“It was a bolt out of the blue,” said the former World War II bomber pilot who flew 35 combat missions over enemy territory. “After all these years it came as a pleasant surprise.”
Shirley has found John’s reaction to be typical. “After years of sending these cards, the thing that really stands out is the fact that some of these vets have never even received a word of thanks for their service.”
Some veterans take their appreciation further than an acknowledgment. The wife of one told Shirley that her spouse has had all of the cards she sent to him framed and displayed on a wall.
“One friend even brought me dinner, because no one had ever thanked him before,” she said.
Shirley has benefited from the tradition as well in the stories related to her by veterans that she might not have otherwise heard.
She learned that local chef Jim Gregory once had served as an executive chef for the NATO staff in France, that Donald Clark had been a prisoner of war, that Charlie Ross had handled arresting lines of a carrier when he was in the Navy.
I suspect she will have even more stories after this Veterans Day, and a lot more local veterans will know that they are appreciated.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at email@example.com.
Veterans Day Service
WHEN: 11 a.m. Sunday.
WHERE: The Memorial for Veterans on the Bartholomew County Courthouse lawn.
FEATURES: Release of balloons, each for a local veteran who had died since the last Veterans Day. Laying of wreaths at the Memorial by representatives of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion auxiliaries and the Daughters of the American Revolution. Music by the Southern Indiana Pipes and Drums. Rifle salute by the Bartholomew County Color Guard.
RAIN LOCATION: Main meeting room of Columbus City Hall.