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More tales about vets who touched lives

June 09, 2004|by BOB MAGINNIS

Last month, I asked readers to share stories about the special veterans in their lives. I've received so many submissions that I'm sharing another batch today. I've been impressed and touched by the letters I've gotten telling about how these former soldiers came home and continued to serve their families, friends and communities.

Here are some more of those stories, in what won't be the last installment of this series:

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Lee Jenkins of Boonsboro wrote about her brother.

"My brother was just 18 years old and barely 'off the farm' when he was called to serve our country - like so many other young men.

"We don't talk much about his experiences, like so many other young men who were fortunate enough to return home after a war.

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"My brother represents the average GI Joe who helped to protect all of us. I don't know if he has any medals. I do know his name is inscribed on a wall honoring hometown 'boys' in the small town where he grew up.

"I don't know if he is eligible to receive one of your 'Healing Field' flags, but he will always be a hero to me, like so many others before and after him."




Marianne Elliott of Smithsburg wrote about her brother, Ronald L. Hoelzer, who joined the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Maryland in the early 1950s.

He became a fighter pilot and served on active duty in Germany, the Philippines, Vietnam and Okinawa.

Now 72 and retired in Tampa, Fla., he has served in his community association for many years, spearheading, among other things, a plan to collect leftover fruit from privately owned fruit trees for distribution to nursing home patients, children's homes and the homeless.

He also spends lots of time raising funds for the Jerry Waterman Education Association, which he founded to give needy students math and science scholarships.

"While he once received the Air Force Association Man of the Year award, he's my 'Man of the Year' every year for his tireless efforts to improve lives and raise awareness for a better quality of life."




Sandy Snyder, who wrote about her father previously, wrote again to say she'd forgotten to tell me his name was Paul R. Hammond.

"My dad is Paul R. Hammond. He joined the Army at the age of 17 and served for 24 years until he retired in 1979. It was his only career, and he served proudly. He has three daughters, and we were all born in different countries. Now he spends his time volunteering at his church, helping family and friends, and being a good husband, father and grandfather of six.

"We are very proud of him."




Mary Kline of Waynesboro, Pa., wrote about her father, the Rev. Opie Eldridge Elkins.

One of 10 children, he became a Methodist minister before joining the Army to serve in World War I, spending eight months overseas. When he returned, he acted as minister to a number of West Virginia churches, including one stretch in 1936 when he served 11 churches.

"He and my grandmother raised six healthy and happy children. My mother was his second oldest and revered him, smiling and still calling him 'Daddy until her death in 1997."

"He died in May 1958, three years before I was born. Sadly, I know only a little about him and his history. I do know he was greatly admired by many and adored by his children. He loved reading and music with great passion. He also wrote poetry, most of his poems referencing his love of God."

If she could meet anyone from the past, Kline said, "my immediate answer to this question would be my mother's father, Opie Eldridge Elkins."




Gary Wright of Hagerstown wrote about his uncle, Oliver Lee Wright II, who joined the Navy when World War II began and made a 20-year career of it. After he retired, he worked as director of maintenance for two large Boy Scout camps and also as a long-distance trucker.

"Uncle Ollie was a dreamer and one terrific man. Always willing to put off whatever project he was working on - and he always had several projects going on - to build a road, cut up trees, repair a house or whatever needed done for whichever neighbor needed it done."

Wright said that what spurred him to write was an e-mail from his cousin Becky, Uncle Ollie's daughter, to say that her son-in-law Steve has been deployed to Iraq.

"Aunt Betty, (Ollie's husband) had a husband spend 20 years serving, a son giving 20 years and now a grandson-in-law headed for Iraq. I can't think of anything that would mean more to her than to have her family included in your 'tell me about your vet' column."




As I said at the beginning of all this, the best stories will get one of seven U.S. flags from the "Healing Field" fund-raiser. As part of that, thousands of flags will be flown on the Antietam National Battlefield Independence Day weekend to commemorate the victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The fund-raiser benefits another set of victims - the abused children served by the Parent-Child Center, a Washington County United Way agency that works to combat child abuse.

If you don't have a story to share, but would like to purchase a flag or get more information about the event, call the center at 301-791-2224.

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