PDT Staff Writer
Christmas morning, while most of us will be just coming down to see what Santa brought, a lot of folks from James Dickey Post 23 of the American Legion will be making the trek to Chillicothe to spend a part of their holiday with veterans at The VA Hospital.
“To me it’s an honor,” State Representative for Gifts for Yanks Dave Bussler said. “Some of our veterans who are patients up there are having really hard times within their lives. So what does it take - four or five hours out of my day, which is nothing.”
Bussler said the schedule is the same each year.
“We meet in Chillicothe on Christmas Morning, most of the local posts, and the posts here in southern Ohio,” Bussler said. “We meet at the VA Hospital where these gifts have been wrapped, and every patient’s name put on it. Post 23 has a ward up there, and probably around 12 members of Post 23 will go up there and deliver the gifts to each individual patient in that ward.”
Bussler said Post 23 usually donates about $2,500 a year to the Gifts for Yanks Program. Of the money collected, 100 percent goes to buy the gifts, and as important as the gifts, is the time the veterans from the post spend with the patients, sitting with them and talking, assuring them that they are being taken care of.
Bussler said he has seen as much as $10,000 brought in from the Seventh District of the Department of the Ohio American Legion, in one morning and from $250,000 to $300,000 throughout the department.
“It sounds like a lot of money, but there is a lot of veterans,” Bussler said.
“The Gifts for Yanks program is where almost all (American Legion) posts contribute money that is set aside to help the veterans in the VA Hospital,” Bussler said. “It provides comfort. It doesn’t give the VA Hospital any money to buy anything for the VA Hospital. It provides money for the comfort of the veteran patient in the hospital.”
Bussler said items such as shaving gear, TVs and cable service are provided by the program.
“What they do during the year, the posts throughout the state of Ohio will have a fund drive,” Bussler said. “They raise money and they turn it in to the Department of Ohio American Legion, and they have a committee which consists of one individual from the fourteen districts in the state, and they will determine what they’re going to buy for the veterans in the hospital for Christmas.”
The gifts include book lights, gift cards for the commissary and phone cards.
“The phone cards are so that veteran patients can make phone calls on Christmas day,” Bussler said. “A lot of these veterans in the VA Hospital are pretty lonely. They don’t get a lot of family who come and see them.”
The contingent of local veterans who go to the hospital on Christmas leave around 8 a.m. and arrive in the hospitality room at the hospital about an hour later where the groups are separated and sent to their respective wards.
“Some long time members have been going up there since time began. Dave Cropper, Lymon Jones, Bill Carson and Tom Rolfe, they have been going up there forever. I think it’s wonderful,” Jim Saddler, local representative for the Volunteer Association for the Veterans Hospital, and the local VA Outpatient Clinic, said. “I just started going up there a few years ago, and we will have 20 to 25 people to go.”
Saddler said the local veterans also take candy and other treats to the patients, as well as a lot of the presents left over from the Nursing Home Veteran’s Christmas Party. Saddler said the rest of the presents are taken to the general warehouse to be distributed as needed throughout the year.
People can make contributions by making checks out to American Legion Post 23. Bussler said people should note in the “memo” part of the check that they want it to go for “Gifts for Yanks.”
“The old saying is, ‘veterans helping veterans,’ and that is what we do,” Bussler said. “We’re still serving, and hopefully the patients up there will get on their feet and get out and start a new life, and contribute to help veterans at VA hospitals.”
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 252, or firstname.lastname@example.org