“Their warm smiles, soft handshakes and appreciative hugs make all our efforts worthwhile,” said Mary Ann Mullins of Jenkins, as she wiped tears from her eyes. For several years Mary Ann has been the liaison between American Legion District 10 and the Eastern Kentucky Veterans Center in Hazard.
District 10 is comprised of Jenkins Post No.66, Neon Post No.104, Whitesburg Post No.152 and Martin Post No.283. “Each year we raise money from donations and buy individual gifts for all of the patients in the hospital,” said Mary Ann. “Last year we bought blankets for each and every one of them. We just want to let them know we love them and they are not forgotten. This year we got their sizes and ordered pajama bottoms and matching t-shirts to fit.
“When we visited there on Dec. 16, the place was spotlessly clean. It didn’t have the smell normally associated with nursing homes. The facility has 120 beds and 116 of them were filled. The administrator said the other four beds would probably be filled before Christmas. The oldest veteran there is 98 years old; he had served as a medic during World War II. He was injured in combat and was sent back to the states to a veterans’ hospital in Texas for six months then requested that he be returned to the front lines to be with his Army brothers.
“ The next oldest is 97 years old and had served in both World War II and the Korean War. There is one lady veteran about 90 years old; she had served as a nurse during World War II. There were veterans of all ages representing all of the wars from World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle East wars.
“This project would not have been possible without the wonderful sponsors,” continued Mary Ann. “Some gave money to our cause and the J.C. Penney Stores gave us a 20 percent discount on everything and did not charge us any taxes or shipping and handling.
“Not all of the veterans there were strangers,” said Mary Ann, with a smile. “We had a nice visit with Preacher Otis Durham, who had been pastor of the Church of God of Prophecy at East Jenkins, and Ervin Whitaker, who had been the proprietor of the Whitaker Music Store and Army Goods Store at East Jenkins.
“We also visited with David Banks from Whitesburg, who had been the school principal at the Burdine grade school several years ago.”
When I asked Mary Ann about the status of the proposed World War II monument to be erected in Jenkins, her eyes lit up as she brought me up to date. “You know . . . we’ve been working on this project for several years now and we’re hoping to be ready to do the dedication on Memorial Day 2012.
“We now have 626 names of World War II veterans who all have ties with our community. All attended school in the Jenkins School District. Many did not graduate because they enlisted right after Pearl Harbor was bombed or they were drafted before they graduated.
“Two brothers, Jesse and Jack Hays, were raised at Smokey Row and enlisted at the onset of the war. They now live in Arizona and they plan to come home for the dedication.
“We will also have a star or cross engraved by the names of those who were killed during the war. It is unfortunate that this recognition was not given half a century ago when most of these men and women were alive. I can imagine how these veterans must have felt when they returned from the war; they were just glad to be home and go on with their lives; they were not concerned about glory.
“I must give a special ‘thank you’ to State Representative Leslie Combs, Senator Johnny Ray Turner and Magistrate Wayne Fleming for their efforts to make this dream a reality. The monument will be erected in the boulevard on Main Street in front of the old railroad depot which is now the David A. Zegeer Coal/Railroad Museum.”