Ottawa VFW Post 9142 Commander Frank Alafa (left) and Chaplain Ken Wehri display a sample of a special gift provided to veterans in many of the county's long-term care facilities. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)
Ottawa VFW Post 9142 Commander Frank Alafa (left) and Chaplain Ken Wehri display a sample of a special gift provided to veterans in many of the county's long-term care facilities. (Putnam Sentinel/Steven Coburn-Griffis)

OTTAWA/PUTNAM COUNTY — To call the last year difficult is akin to likening the Grand Canyon to a ditch. The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated sacrifice, and for none moreso than those living in long-term care facilities.

To help ease the isolation experienced by military veterans in the county’s nursing homes, members of Ottawa VFW Post 9142 offered gifts this Christmas; gifts intended to assure these men and women who offered themselves in service are, in truth, never forgotten.

“We try to do something every year for the veterans,” Ken Wehri, chaplain at Post 9142 said, describing past years’ recognitions of gift cards — an item they quickly moved away from — blankets, and vests. “This year, what are we going to do? My daughter works at Phantasm, and she suggested something like this.”

Wehri held up a banner of blue felt, trimmed in white, and embroidered with gold letters spelling out the legend, “Armed Forces Veteran.” A pine dowel rod runs through a sewed fold at the top. The ends of the rod are capped with M1 shell casings policed up after ceremonies held throughout the county. A red string at the top serves as a hanger.

Wehri said the banners were delivered to 21 veterans in nursing homes throughout the county: the Meadows of Ottawa, Kalida and Leipsic; Autumn Court and Putnam Heritage in Ottawa; and Pandora’s Hilty Home.

“I’d been trying to get the activities directors at the nursing homes to designate that there’s a veteran in the room somehow; by putting a star on the doorframe,” Wehri explained. “We went this route, and I called them all and they said, yeah, this would work.”

Contributing to the design and manufacture of the banners, as well as assisting with the cost, were Phantasm Design, County Wide Designs, and Schimmoeller Construction. Once assembled — Wehri cut the rods to size, and mounted the shell casings — the banners were provided to the aforementioned facilities, staff members at which hung them on the veterans doors.

Both Wehri and Post 9142 Commander Frank Alafa commented this year has proven challenging for veterans and their families. Ceremonies typically commemorating their sacrifices were canceled, as were many honor guard presentations at funerals.

“When this COVID really hit back in May and June, we couldn’t give the veterans a 21-gun salute at the cemetary, because the VFW canceled all that out,” Alafa said.

When restrictions briefly eased and such honors were again permitted, Honor Guard members presented their salutes to the recently deceased, and invited those OVERSET FOLLOWS:families whose veterans passed previously special, albeit delayed, salutes for their loved ones.

With the banners, post members continue to honor their fellow veterans, and offer a continuing reminder of their sacrifices to all who pass their doors.