By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS – Walter Wharton said the greatest generation has some stiff competition.
"They're the next greatest generation," Wharton said of today's soldiers.
Wharton, of Dallas, and a group of other woodcarvers – mostly veterans – are using their hobby to help today's most recent veterans get back on their feet after being wounded.
On Friday and Saturday, a group of local men got together to make canes for wounded soldiers who need them.
"It's just a good feeling to make something some of these wounded GIs can have for a souvenir," said Joe Carter, of Harker Heights.
The canes, carved from bass wood, feature the Texas flag on the side and an eagle head on top for the handle.
"These canes are commemorative," Wharton said, adding that some veterans use the canes to assist their mobility.
Wharton led the group in Harker Heights this weekend with carving, sanding, painting and finishing the canes. Each cane takes one to two days to complete.
"I'm still working on mine; hopefully, I'd be finished by the end of the day," Tony Costa said Saturday morning.
Wharton got the idea to make the canes about three years ago when he learned of a similar project in Oklahoma.
When he started the program, the canes were only for soldiers from Texas and for post-9/11 soldiers wounded in the war against terrorism.
Since then, the program has expanded to include soldiers from across the United States in need of a cane for mobility.
"If they're from Texas, we give them a Texas cane; if they're not from Texas, it's to remind them it came from Texas," Wharton said.
The canes go to soldiers who have brain tumors, lost limbs or any other injury that prompts the need for a cane.
"The people of this country need to know the quality of the dedication of these soldiers," Wharton said.
Most of the men making canes at the Harker Heights Recreation Center on Saturday were Vietnam War veterans. They said the project is their way of giving the soldiers a warmer reception home than they received.
"It seemed like something we could do for the troops," said Costa, of Harker Heights.
Soldiers who receive canes typically are presented with them in a ceremony. The recipient is nominated by medical advisers. The canes being made this weekend were not for specific soldiers yet, but Costa said demand for the canes is high.
"They're increasing, unfortunately. We are trying to get a stockpile so we can present them," Costa said.
So far, about 100 canes have been presented to soldiers. Wharton said that in addition to mailing canes to field hospitals in Kuwait and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., he has made presentations at Fort Hood and Brooke Army Medical Center at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
"I don't care what you or anybody else thinks about the war, we've got to love our soldiers," Wharton said.
Contact Kevin M. Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7550