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Vets receive valentines, well-wishes for holiday

Richard Lockhart, a patient at Montgomery Veteran’s Hospital, receives a valentine Feb. 13 from Katelynn Nelson, age 3.  Also shown are Katelynn’s 5-year-old brother Christopher, and father Tech. Sgt. Jason Nelson. They were all volunteers for the local salute to hospitalized veterans sponsored by the National Department of Veterans’ Affairs. (Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

Richard Lockhart, a patient at Montgomery Veteran’s Hospital, receives a valentine Feb. 13 from Katelynn Nelson, age 3. Also shown are Katelynn’s 5-year-old brother Christopher, and father Tech. Sgt. Jason Nelson. They were all volunteers for the local salute to hospitalized veterans sponsored by the National Department of Veterans’ Affairs. (Air Force photo by Melanie Rodgers Cox)

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. -- Valentine's Day came a day early for more than 225 Veteran Administration hospital patients who received valentines and well-wishes as part of the National Salute to Hospitalized Veterans week.

"This year's Valentines for Vets project is a success once again," said Lisa Warr, chief of civic outreach at Air University Public Affairs, who helped organized the trips. "The volunteers are from all over Maxwell-Gunter, including organizations such as the Holm Center, Air War College, Auburn ROTC, Officer Training School, and the 42nd Medical Group. We requested volunteers and we're thrilled as 55 people stepped forward to deliver the valentines."

The valentine cards were specially made by the students of Maxwell Elementary School to show support and gratitude to those who have served. Ms. Warr said the

Maxwell Elementary School and Gunter Child Development Center made 360 cards and 260 of those contained special letters of appreciation signed personally by Lt. Gen. Allen G. Peck, commander of Air University.

Volunteers delivered the cards to two nearby VA hospitals - one in Montgomery caring for 40 people, and the Tuskegee, Ala. Hospital, which has more than 100 patients.

The concept of the annual Valentines for Vets program focuses on hospitalized veterans, while targeting and promoting involvement of members of the local community.

"One of the benefits of having our volunteer program run this event is that people come, they see our patients, they connect with our patients, and then they volunteer, said Al Bloom, Veterans Health Administration public affairs officer and former Navy chief. "So hopefully people realize that there are still hospitalized veterans, and of course, the valentine deliveries have a direct and positive impact on their sense of well-being."

He described how the patients' faces light up when they see people coming, especially those in uniform.

"There's a connection or bond that transfers," Mr. Bloom said. "They think, 'I may have not been feeling well, but here's this guy coming, and he's here to see me and he's looking sharp - so I'm going to look sharp and square myself away,'" Mr. Bloom said.

Volunteering with the Maxwell-Gunter group was Kirstin Nelson and her family.

"I'm a qualified disabled Air Force veteran myself," Mrs. Nelson said. "Coming here and seeing the vets means a lot to my family. I get to teach my kids what they did. My son originally thought a 'vet' meant a veterinarian. Bringing him over here to show what a veteran truly is and letting them learn about serving your country - it means a lot to me as a mom."

Her husband, Tech. Sgt. Patrick "Jason" Nelson, assigned to the 754th Electronic Systems Group, said honoring veterans is important.

"It's wonderful to see the vets who basically paved the way for us, to somehow repay them and spend a little time with them," he said.

Sergeant Nelson was in uniform while his son wore a small airman battle uniform, and his daughter wore a festive red Valentine's Day dress.

Veterans in the hospital enjoyed the visits as well.

"When I came back from Vietnam in 1970, we were not received very well, so this right here, in portion, makes up for all that," said Marine Sgt. Donnie Daniels. "The special attention today is a change from what you would expect. It's been great to know that there are people who care about what we went through, and that the kids are learning so much. When they brought in the children to sing to us, that was my game. I love it."

Tech. Sgt. Walter Bowyer expressed similar sentiments.

"All these military folks and children running around here giving me all these pretty cards, it's my lucky day," he said. "We're gonna make it."

"It's not just the veterans who benefit on this day, but we regular volunteers do, too," said Luke C. Williams, a disabled Army vet and volunteer who has worked more than 18,000 hours. "We get to show visitors what we do, and how we impact our veterans' lives every day. Everybody involved comes away from National Salute with a positive outlook."