Veterans helping fellow military healing wounds
JACKSONVILLE --A group of local veterans are striving to give back and show gratitude to military members who are recuperating from injury.
The Marine Corps League Detachment No. 1381 out of Jacksonville has set up an account at Austin Bank called the Ellis Warrior Fund to benefit the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio.
The center serves patients, next-of-kin and extended family members of service men and women that were wounded in combat. For instance, the center will provide a hotel room, food, training and assistance to someone who has a loved one at the Brooke Army Medical Center and can't afford a hotel room, said Chuck Bones, commandant with the detachment.
He said the goal of the facility is to help everyone involved as they transition into "the new normal." The center also plans activities for wounded warriors and their family members, such as shopping trips, luncheons and dinners, bingo and fishing trips, according to the center's website.
"We just want to do the right thing. ... (The center's) helping both the veteran and family spend time together at the crucial point of their recovery," Bones said.
The Jacksonville detachment became involved about four months ago after Bones talked with Lawanda Ellis, an 82-year-old Jacksonville resident whose grandson is an injured marine.
She told him that the grandson, Eric Ellis, was hit by an improvised explosive device while in Afghanistan and was at Brooke Army.
He also learned that Mrs. Ellis went to San Antonio two to three times a week with goodies for soldiers.
Bones said he asked whether she enjoyed driving, and when she said, "Not really," the detachment offered to take her and help make goodie bags, which were filled with items such as beef jerky and apple pie.
"We went to every floor that had veterans on it and handed out goodie bags. There were rooms we couldn't go into because of the severity of the wounds, (and) there was not a dry eye,"
But they still had goodies left over, so they went to meet Eric Ellis, who was transferred that day from Brooke Army to the veteran recovery center nearby.
From the Ellis family, Bones learned about the Warrior and Family Support Center, and he credited Mrs. Ellis for giving him a wake-up call.
She "slapped me upside the head relatively speaking and reminded me that there is a need," Bones said. "There (are) men and women that have served our country that can't come home right now. They're stuck."
Eric Ellis' father, who worked in North Carolina, was fortunate that his job allowed him to come to San Antonio and be with his son while he went through that, he said.
"His dad said if not for the facility, he could not have spent the time he needed with his son. It wouldn't have been possible. I'm thinking to myself, 'Wow, this whole facility is ran by donations, and we need to do our part,'" Bones said.
Mrs. Ellis said her grandson, who lost his right leg below the knee and received damage on the rest of his body, is "doing absolutely fantastic." When he came home to Jacksonville for a visit, he had his first prosthesis and was walking with cane, she said.
Mrs. Ellis also received a picture from his girlfriend, showing him running in the gym on his new prosthesis.
"I give the people at the hospital credit for that. His brother and his father stayed with him for a month or more," she said.
But "so many of the young men in the hospital are not lucky enough to have (a family) that can come. They have jobs and just can't leave. That's why I feel the need to go as often as I can, and they (the Marine Corps league) give as well."
Residents can give, too, by donating to the Ellis Warrior Fund. All donations will go to Warrior and Family Support Center.
"Mainly we put (the) Ellis' name on there because they're the ones responsible for waking us up ... and allowing us to remember there is a need. These young men and women put their lives on the line," Bones said.
He added, "We want to make sure that the families can go down and not worry about finances. They don't have to worry about where they're going to eat (or) where they're going to stay. ... We need to make sure the family's able to be down there and help their warrior heal."
Of the wounded warriors, he said, "They give without any sense of looking for gratification. They don't want sympathy or pity, (but) regardless of your political affliction, we need to help them transition between the combat part of life and coming back into society."
If people can't donate money, they can donate items such as gift cards; disposable cameras; baked goods; candy; individually wrapped snacks; music; DVDs; popcorn; diapers; formula; and personal hygiene products to any Marine Corps League member or flag down the big red Marine Corps League Tahoe around town and indicate that items are for the Ellis fund. People can also donate on Saturday during the Spooktacular Bull Bash, which is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. at the rodeo arena behind Lon Morris College.
"It's important that those young men realize that people care what has happened to them ..." Mrs. Ellis said.
"They all were so appreciative, especially when I told them how appreciative I am of what they have done."