America Supports You: Woodcarvers Personalize Canes for Wounded Troops
By Monique Reuben
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 3, 2006 Some wounded veterans may never walk again, which is why Korean War veteran Jack Nitz wants to make sure they at least smile again.
Examples of “presentation canes” volunteers have carved for wounded servicemembers. Courtesy photo
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
After watching a news story about servicemembers who lost limbs in Iraq and Afghanistan, the former Navy petty officer first class decided to use his love for woodcarving to honor and support wounded troops by carving personalized “presentation canes” for them.
“Presentation canes are an artistic symbol of support and honor to the recipient,” he said.
Each individually hand-crafted cane is engraved with the wounded veteran’s name, branch, rank, and date and place of injury. Each cane features a hand-carved eagle’s head on the handle.
Nitz, who spent nine years in the Navy, said a simple cane takes 15-20 hours to create. Nitz and several members of the Eastern Oklahoma Woodcarvers Association have carved several presentation canes to give Oklahoma veterans who have suffered leg injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. The association has given personalized canes to 15 wounded servicemembers.
“The response from the soldiers has been positive and heart-warming; I think they really have truly appreciated the support,” he said.
Marine Sgt. Michael Donnelly, 23, said he appreciates the cane he received in January 2005. “It goes everywhere with me,” he said.
Donnelly, who is with the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Marine Division, suffered an open fracture and severed arteries Nov. 15, 2005, during his second deployment to Iraq.
During Donnelly’s two-month recovery at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., another Marine from his unit who was also hospitalized gave him a flyer about the project. His father found the flyer and contacted the group. A personalized cane was waiting for Donnelly when he arrived home.
“When I found out that someone actually hand-carved this cane for me, it was just really inspirational,” Donnelly said.
He acknowledged that his cane is not physically helping his recovery, but said the gift lifted his spirits tremendously. “It’s a hard time in my life right now, just thinking about my buddies that are still there (in Iraq) and stuff like that,” he said.
“It (the cane) doesn’t help the recovery time; it doesn’t make the leg not broken anymore; all it does is give servicemembers extra confidence that shows them there are people who have their backs, that they can keep their heads high. They can say, ‘This guy made that for me.’”
Nitz carved Donnelly’s cane, but he isn’t the only one carving canes for the wounded.
Inspired by what Nitz was doing in Oklahoma, Walter Wharton decided to get the Texas Woodcarvers Association involved. Now chairman of the cane project committee in Texas, Wharton said the organization presented its first cane to a young Marine in Conroe, Texas, July 18.
He said the organization also is scheduled to present 20 canes to injured servicemembers at Brooke Army Medical Center, in San Antonio, Aug. 3.
Nitz and Wharton have teamed up with the non-profit group “Soldiers’ Angels” to help spread the word about their cane projects. The group is referring servicemembers to the cane project and paying postage for the canes.
Wharton, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, said the project is important to show servicemembers appreciation for their sacrifices. “I remember the way our troops were treated after Vietnam. … It hurt our troops for a long time after,” he said.
“There is nothing more important to me than insuring that these men and women know they are appreciated, and what better way than to show that appreciation than to do something for those wounded men and women,” he said.