Woodcarvers giving walking canes to disabled soldiers
By FRED BROWN
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
The brave young men and women at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in
Washington, critically wounded in America's current conflicts, are being
given some hope and help through a group of woodcarvers in East Tennessee.
The Operation Eagle Head Presentation Canes project by the Smoky Mountain
Woodcarvers is providing a walking cane for any post-9/11 soldier who has
lost a leg.
And, there are a great many who need the canes. From the wars in Iraq and
Afghanistan, America has more than 24,000 wounded, with more than 11,000
wounded so severely that they are unable to return to duty.
In all cases, says John Freels, a spokesman and charter member of the
organization, the canes are free, and all are carved by hand. Many of the
canes are the work of veterans in the 85-member, 31-year-old organization.
Like Vietnam veterans Larry Nowell, a retired master chief, and former
Marine Everett "Smitty" Smith.
Their canes hold special significance.
"This is from the heart," says Smith. "This is not about the pocketbook.
Nothing is too good for our veterans."
About two years ago, woodcarvers in Tulsa, Okla., at the encouragement of
Jack Nitz of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers, asked carvers nationwide to
provide walking canes free of charge for post-9/11 veterans. That call got
the program started, and since then, carvers have been working to give
wounded bodies a walking friend.
Each cane, some intricately carved, many with Purple Hearts and American
flag insignias, has a bold American bald-eagle head. Canes come in different
designs, left up to the individual carver. But all of them have the eagle
Already, the Smoky Mountain Woodcarvers have provided five canes for
presentation and are in the process of carving four more for Marines of
Delta Co. 4th Combat Engineers of Knoxville, Tenn., when they return home
from duty in Iraq.
Marines scheduled to receive the hand-carved canes are Cpl. Jorge Zapata,
Sgt. Andrew Simmons, Cpl. Gregory Warren and Lance Cpl. Michael Harturg.
Cpl. Bradley Walker, of White Pine, Tenn., also of Delta Company, was given
a cane in March carved by Freels. Recently, President Bush met Walker, who
lost both legs when an improvised explosive device slammed into his Humvee.
That explosion also injured Zapata.
In February, club founder Jim Wilsford's cane was given to Spec 4 Sue Downs
of Tazewell, Tenn. She lost both legs while on duty in Afghanistan with the
230th Military Police Company. That was the club's first donated cane.
Ann and Ted Nettles, members of the Patriot Guard Riders of Mount Airy, Md.,
receive canes carved by the Smoky Mountain organization and present them to
the soldiers who are still at Walter Reed. In all, the Smoky Mountain
carvers have made 11 canes that have either been given to soldiers or are
waiting to be presented.
Just recently, the Dixie Handle Co. of Waynesboro, Tenn., began supplying
ash sticks for the carvers. And a group known as the Soldiers' Angels of
Texas is paying for the mailing costs. The group's Web site is
Our walking wounded, say the woodcarvers, have a friend. It's called the
American eagle cane.
The War Ho's can now contribute instead of drooling over the carnage.