Clemson family delivers gifts, companionship to heroes in veterans nursing home
CLEMSON, South Carolina — A brotherhood like no other was on display Saturday as veterans who now are students at Clemson University visited their brothers- and sisters-in-arms at the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson to deliver 220 hand-made care packages and, more importantly, share some time with those who fought before them.
This is the second year the Clemson Student Veteran Association has organized the event, using funds they raised during Clemson Family Weekend. In addition to snacks, T-shirts, candy, notebooks and other gifts, each box included a handwritten note from a member of the Clemson family. The Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home has 220 retired vets living under its roof and each of them received a gift.
Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan enjoy a lot of good will from the public that older veterans didn’t receive, said event organizer Brennan Beck, Clemson’s assistant director for military and veteran engagement and a veteran of the war in Iraq. This was a way Clemson’s military family could help make up for that.
“We, as younger veterans, often receive a good deal of recognition and appreciation for our service. Whether on a college campus or in the community, people will thank us and shake our hands once they learn we’re veterans. I know we’re treated a good deal differently than veterans were back in, say, Vietnam,” said Beck.
“I’m not sure how much the community interacts with our aging veterans in nursing homes. I saw this as an opportunity to give back—for our younger veterans to take charge on a project aimed at sharing that recognition and appreciation that we often receive. I wanted the larger Clemson community to be involved, which is where the hand-written notes and care package donations came in, and for our student veterans to connect with the older ones.”
Beck estimated that several hundred Clemson family members were involved in filling and delivering the packages. Many were student veterans, but there were also military-connected students, Reserve Officers’ Training Corps cadets, traditional students and staff members pitching in every step of the way to make the project a success.
One of those people was Clemson student Talia Pekari, a sophomore studying chemistry and environmental science whose father was in the Navy. She was one of 20 people who spent Saturday morning handing out the packages, serving lunch and socializing with the veterans in the home.
“I think it’s important to give back and something like this is probably the least we can do for people like this,” said Pekari. “They sacrificed much of their lives to keep us safe. It’s so nice to see their faces light up even just talking with them for a few seconds. It’s very rewarding.”
World War II veteran and former U.S. Marine Cpl. Ray Crocker, 89, spent half an hour chatting and laughing with three ROTC cadets who joined him at his lunch table. Getting visits is pretty common in the home, he said, but getting a group from Clemson University was a real treat for him.
“I love it,” he said. “We get a few groups coming in to visit us but I’ve never seen [care packages] like the ones they brought today. It makes me proud. I have a grandson that just graduated Clemson two years ago. It’s nice for old goats like us to talk to younger people. I’d give them advice, but I didn’t take it when I was their age so I don’t expect them to take it from me.”
The care packages are appreciated, but the best gift the Clemson group brought was themselves, said Freda McKnight, the 2014 South Carolina Certified Nursing Assistant of the Year who is in her 23rd year caring for the residents in the home. “I love all these men. I tell everybody – I love my husbands. Every last one of them. I can tell you they like the gifts, but they love the conversation.”
Beck echoed her sentiment, noting that it was great seeing Clemson family members from so many backgrounds unify for such a wonderful cause.
“The greatest reward for me is feeling like I’ve helped bring people in our community together,” said Beck. “Talking with the retired veterans, hearing their stories from ‘back in the day,’ joking about other military branches and how ‘their branch was the best,’ and just connecting with them on such personal levels… it’s all a powerful reminder that we veterans are not alone. There are many like us who came before who we can connect with, learn from and be a blessing to. The care packages are a nice gesture of our appreciation, but the real impact for both us and them comes from our interactions.”
The Army’s current program to aid soldiers in the transition from active duty to civilian life is called Soldier for Life. It’s both a statement and a promise to those who’ve worn the uniform that their service will never be forgotten. They use a quote from George Washington as their mantra: “The willingness with which our young people are likely to serve in any war, no matter how justified, shall be directly proportional to how they perceive the Veterans of earlier wars were treated and appreciated by their nation.”
Thanks to the Clemson family, that perception was bolstered in the Upstate this week – and 220 of our bravest were shown how much they are appreciated.