“Most of us have grandchildren by now,” said Keith King, Army/ Specialist E-4, in the recreation room of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan, pointing at the gathered veterans, men now in their sixties, who served their country with pride during the Vietnam conflict.  Around them, patients from the hospital, some as young as three, worked diligently on the Operation Exchange of Hearts ‘greetings’ which will be presented to children in Hanoi’s Children’s Village next week.

King, who is also the National Public Affairs Chairman for Vietnam Veterans of America, went on:  “Sharing our emotions with these kids here today is a remarkable chance for us to make sure that this generation is aware of us, what we’ve been through.”

His voice drops a bit, and the burly gentleman, who saw many tough moments in his tour of duty, brims with emotion.  “It’s as important to us as it is to the children,” he confesses.  “It’s validation of our generation.”

Later, Dr. Herman B. Gray, president of the Children's Hospital of Michigan, stopped by to lend his support and encouragement to the humanitarian project.  Soft spoken and eloquent, Dr. Gray declared that the communication between the generations would prove invaluable to his patients:  “Maybe not immediately,” he said.  “They’re still young.  But as they grow up, I’m sure this experience will grow in importance to them—the opportunity to offer hope to other children, across the sea, who are battling illnesses, and in return, to receive hopeful greetings from them.  The vets here today, giving up their time to visit with these children, only enhances the project. They’ve seen another side of the world as soldiers, and their message is a powerful one.”

The outreach book will be hand-delivered to the children in Hanoi by Pfc Mark Spooner and his daughter, Captain Jennifer Spooner during the week of March 2.  Many of these children are suffering residual illnesses due to exposure to the carcinogenic defoliant Agent Orange.

The book is being designed by Jim Tocco, who lent his phenomenal talents to ensuring that Detroit: Our Greatest Generation was a graphic success. 

Besides King, the vets offering their time and compassion during the February 25 interface at the Children’s Village, Bill Schwalm (Airman First Class/ Ride Captain for Patriot Guard), George Moran (Army)Staff Sergeant, USAF Mike Sand (388th Tactical Fighter Wing, Private Mark Spooner(Marines), Captain Jennifer Spooner, (Marines, Iraq War veteran), Msg. Jeff Rector (USAR-CAC-MFH, Active Duty 39 years), Wayne Curto (Marines), Jim Hess (Spec 4, Army), Edward Tuggle (82nd Airborne Division) each found an individual child to work with in creating the precious masterpieces to be shuttled to Vietnam.

And in such a position, these warriors looked grandfatherly indeed, even as they shared combat paraphernalia—helmets and jackets—to the star-struck youths.

“Children,” Dr. Gray says, pointing over his shoulder at the table filled with art supplies and eager artists.  “represent purity, honesty and openness.  Their artwork reflects this.” 

Holding up a particularly poignant painting that reads, simply, ‘Heal’, Dr. Grey maintains, “They represent everything that is good in this world.”


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