By Paul Steven GhiringhelliApril 23, 2010
FORT DRUM, N.Y. - Warrior Transition Unit bus driver Fred Brooks likes to shoot the breeze with riding Soldiers, especially during cold North Country winters, when the shuttle's toasty interior invites passengers to hang back and chat.
"On the bus we like to talk," said Brooks, an Army veteran of Operation Desert Storm. "But whatever's said on the bus stays on the bus."
This past winter, a passenger said something that caught Brooks' attention.
WTU Soldier Spc. Charles Wood, 33, said while staying at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., last year he connected with a woodcarver from Tennessee who honors wounded veterans by crafting them distinctive eagle-head canes, much like the one Wood himself uses for injuries sustained in Iraq.
The notion of a tailor-made cane made Brooks immediately think of local Navy veteran Richard Robinson, a Fort Drum Public Works retiree who was wounded during World War II.
"When I returned from Desert Storm, Richard was there welcoming me back," Brooks said. "You don't forget things like that."
Brooks and Wood conspired and hatched a plan to surprise Robinson with a cane by enlisting the help of Navy veteran John Freels, the Tennessee woodcarver who has created and donated 30 canes to date.
"My dad taught me about making sure to look after veterans," Wood said. "It was the veterans before me who laid the path that I walk down today."
Wood presented Robinson with the finished cane, which detailed the places and campaigns of his decorated service, during a dinner March 31 at the Commons.
"It's hard to be picked out," said Robinson, a coxswain who taxied troops to the shores of Normandy on D-Day. "So many other people are deserving of this."
Robinson's wife, Sandy, was in on the surprise, as were his daughters, Teri and Betty, and cousin, Sally Stevens.
Also in attendance was 1st Sgt. Maurice Jones, Wood's first sergeant from WTU.
Wood said he was honored to sit by Robinson's side all evening and hear firsthand accounts of historical events.
"For me, it was just great to be able to do something for another veteran - a veteran from World War II made it that more special," said Wood, who has since relocated to Fort Meade, Md., to be closer to Family.
"Richard just stared at the cane and kept telling us stories of each place he had been."
Freels, a charter member of the Smoky Mountain Wood Carvers Association in Knoxville, Tenn., said canes made for amputees returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are shipped to Walter Reed and presented to veterans.
"We consider this a labor of love and honor for the service member and for their service to the nation," Freels said.