By Becky Robinette Wright
King’s Korner banquet room at the Chesterfield County Airport looked like a patriotic Santa’s workshop on Saturday. There were lots of helpers on hand to assist with a very special project, assembling canes for veterans. No elves were spotted but people and youth from all walks of life pitched right in.
The program is called Standing Tall, and it is the brainchild of 13-year-old Thomas Reilly.
“It all started when I met Clarence Walters, a veteran,” said Reilly, who stood humbly in front of the audience and volunteers. “Clarence was just awesome and I really learned a lot from him about some of our history. When he passed away, his cane was given to me and his family asked me to pass it on to someone who could use it.”
That’s when a light came on in Reilly’s mind. “But, why stop with only one cane,” Reilly said, “There are so many veterans out there that should be helped and remembered.”
So Reilly went right to work. He formed Standing Tall and began to seek donors and volunteers; he also began to seek out veterans.
Reilly recruited his schoolmates, and neighbors, and then he issued a call for volunteers from the community. His plea was answered.
Gary Bartle, a retired school teacher and Debbie Bartle, a current teacher, were on hand to help Reilly assemble canes. “He is so special,” said Debbie Bartle, speaking of Reilly., “He is just an amazing person. Look at what he has gotten done.”
Reilly’s cause had filled the banquet room to capacity. Even veterans themselves were helping out.
Norm Van Bogart, a wheelchair-bound veteran who lost his legs, sat busily assembling canes. “I think this is wonderful,” Van Bogart said. With determination, he worked to finish his cane, one of 200 that would be assembled and donated to his fellow veterans.
The program began with James River ROTC Honor Guard posting the colorsthen the Pledge of Allegiance was recited. Some special pilots also made an appearance; “Pappy” and his son “Hollywood” had two Warbirds from World War II, with which they did a flyover after speaking briefly to the audience.
Food was provided and a silent auction held to raise funds for the non-profit to continue in its efforts. For more information on Standing Tall or to make a donation http://www.standingtallusa.org.