The Commercial Appeal
Veteran spreads love to others who served
Sometimes, all it takes is a thoughtful card to brighten a person’s day. That’s how a 76-year-old Vietnam veteran has made sure other comrades who served aren’t forgotten each Valentine’s Day.
Veterans of Foreign Wars chaplain Wes Anderson, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, launched Valentines for Veterans in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic paused family visits at the Spokane Veterans Home in Washington.
In an effort to boost spirits around the nursing home, Anderson, a father of two Phoenix-based sons who has lived in the Spokane area most of his life, had an idea.
“I knew the veterans didn’t have any way of getting out or families being able to contact them, so I contacted a friend of mine with Northeast Youth Center (in Spokane) to see if he could have his kids do some Valentine’s Day cards for the veterans here,” Anderson told USA TODAY.
Anderson also worked with Jeanette Sauer-smith, Spokane Veterans Home’s recreation and athletic specialist, to get the cards sent to the home. After word of the initiative spread in the community and across social media, it snowballed from there, Anderson said.
Cards from as far away as South Carolina, Florida and New York have reached the Pacific Northwest nursing home, according to Anderson.
“Thank you!” “Happy Hearts Day!” “Will you be my Valentine?” some of the heartfelt cards have read. Boxes of Valentine’s Day chocolates also occasionally get thrown into the mix.
“It’s made me happy,” he said. The facility runs similar programs for veterans during Christmas and Easter.
He figured the home would receive about a couple hundred cards the first year – and was surprised to learn that 3,000 cards had been sent.
“I was like, ‘holy smokes!’ ” Anderson said. “This is something which became a labor of love, and it started with a bunch of kids at a small community center.”
In January, Anderson reached out to his “go-to guy,” Mike Ellis, a social media director for several Spokane-area businesses, to get the word out about sending cards to veterans.
Spokane Veterans Home had received about 300 holiday cards by the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, according to Sauer-smith, who goes room to room sharing cards with veterans.
“We have some guys here that go around and show each other the cards,” Sauer-smith said. “It’s just a wonderful program.”
Gary Wright, a 65-year-old Army Reserve veteran who’s lived at the facility for five years, has been showered with a number of the kind cards over the past few years.
“They’re great,” the great-grandfather said. “Makes a big difference.”
For Anderson, it’s all about letting veterans know they’re still appreciated.
“They are still wanted,” he said. “Their service is still respected, and we just wanted to make them feel that they’re still a part of our community, and a part of us.”