October 25, 2014

Lean on Me program honors veterans

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WEST BRANCH — An Arenac County man carved the 847th specially crafted cane awarded to a veteran by the Lean on Me program, which is sponsored by the Michigan Woodcarvers Association.

Arenac Township resident Glen Rice carved the eagle head that adorned the top of the cane and presented it to John K. Salters of West Branch on Feb. 11.

Rice said he has carved six canes so far for veterans, three of which he made before knowing about the Lean on Me program.

The idea behind the program started after Operation Desert Storm when those involved were returning with severe injuries that left many of them crippled, said Fred Turner, the Mid-Michigan area representative for the Lean on Me program.

“The clubs wanted to do something for these guys,” Turner said.

The MWCA gives priority to World War II veterans and those who have received Purple Hearts. Each cane has an eagle’s head carved on top, which is often carved by a person who is matched with the recipient’s branch of the military.

In Salters’ case, he was matched with fellow Marine Rice, who added a special touch to the cane handle by carving a bulldog, which symbolizes the “Devil Dog” nickname given to Marines.

“Glen went above and beyond,” Salters said.

Though a local artisan carves the eagle’s head, the shaft of the cane is sent downstate to be crafted. The front of the cane includes the recipient’s name, rank, unit, time of service and the branch of the service that he or she served in. The back of the cane includes citations, awards and campaign ribbons the person received along with the name of the person who carved the eagle head.

The back of the cane also includes a special statement on what a veteran is, describing a veteran as someone who “at one point wrote a blank check made out to the United States for an amount up to and including his life.”

Recipients are also presented with a framed letter that shows the MWCA’s appreciation for their service.

Salters found out about the program at last year’s Ogemaw County Fair. He and his wife were selling tickets for their Veterans of Foreign Wars office when Turner started talking to them. When Turner saw Salters limp when he walked, he explained the Lean on Me program and asked Salters if he would be interested in receiving a cane.

“It just snowballed from there,” Salters said.

Salters said he told his wife that the cane was too nice to use during inclement weather and joked that he would need to buy a case to display it.

“Those guys did a beautiful job,” he said.

Salter said he still gets a little choked up when he looks at the cane, and he said his time in Vietnam is an experience that he usually doesn’t talk about because it is personal to him.

“It is one of the best programs that I’ve come across for disabled veterans,” Salters said. “The program is outstanding.”

More information about the program, along with application materials, can be found at www.mwca.110mb.com.

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