GREENFIELD — Jim Asher wasn’t expecting any visitors that day, so the shout across the room came as a shock.
Glancing around the common room at Sugar Creek Nursing and Rehabilitation at the sound of his name, his eyes landed on two women holding wrapped gifts.
They smiled warmly at him as he came over to greet them, and they placed in his shaky hands a knitted lap blanket decorated as an American flag — a gift, they said, offered with gratitude for his service in the Vietnam War.
And after a moment of overwhelming emotion and surprise, Asher stuttered out a thank you.
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The women — Christy Broady and Deb Sweet — are members of the Wilkinson-based nonprofit the Weir Cook Memorial Project, the mission for which is to commemorate World War I flying ace and early aviation pioneer Col. Harvey Weir Cook, a Wilkinson native, while also honoring the sacrifices made by all Hoosier veterans.
This winter, members of the organization are visiting nursing homes and assisted living communities in and around Hancock County, delivering handmade blankets to residents who served their country and assuring them the bravery they displayed years ago has not been forgotten.
Through community outreach and connections on social media, group members were able to get their hands on more than 40 homemade American flag blankets to give away, to help make the chilly winter days a bit warmer and happier, for the county’s veterans.
The Weir Cook Memorial Project is know across Central Indiana for its work to honor Weir Cook. The group spearheaded the creation of a Weir Cook Memorial Park in Wilkinson and commissioned a 7-foot bronze statue of the man, which was placed in the concourse of the Indianapolis International Airport in 2015.
Many of the Weir Cook Memorial Project’s programs are education-focused, teaching the public — especially young citizens — about Indiana’s rich aviation and military history, Broady said. When those programs start to slow down when the weather turns cold, the nonprofit turns its attention to service-oriented projects, she said. This year, group members found inspiration for the project in their own skills — many members love to crochet and knit.
In the years she’s spent leading the Weir Cook Memorial Project, Broady has had the opportunity to connect with dozens of veterans from around Hancock County, and she’s grown quite close to several of them, which makes these projects a pleasure to take part in, she said.
Getting to know the community is a huge part of her work, Broady said. She’s honored to be tasked with a mission as important as learning the stories of Indiana’s veterans.
“It kind of gets in your blood,” she said. “It’s like your battle buddies, they kind of grow on you.”
Service to the community has become an important part of the organization’s mission, said founding member Kurt Vetters.
The Weir Cook Memorial Project does not want veterans to feel as though their devotion to their country went unnoticed, or that their sacrifice is nothing but a memory, Vetters said. Those who served in Vietnam, Korea or Iraq deserve to know that their national service meant something.
“We want to encourage veterans to realize their sense of purpose,” Vetters said. “That’s part of what the Weir Cook Memorial Project is about.”
Likewise, the organization’s service projects give the people making the blankets a mission of their own; even something as simple as knitting a blanket gives a person a sense of purpose, making the memorial project a two-way street, he said.
“They need help through manpower, and we need a sense of mission … that’s the beauty of this, bringing the veterans community together,” Vetters said. “It means something to help somebody, and it means something to be helped.”
Broady knows that to be true. Even after 16 years of work, she has never cashed a paycheck.
“I don’t want to quit. It’s too much fun,” Broady said. “It’s a national group that you get to meet new people every day, and it’s called the veteran group. Whatever you can do to serve, we’re just giving back.”