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Copperas Cove Veteran Carves Free Canes for Disabled Vets

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Jamie Willis knows what the hard side of life looks like. The U.S. Army veteran was left disabled from his service. He was semi-paralyzed during an accident in Saudi Arabia in 1991, and when his service was completed and he returned to Texas, he had severe issues with his back. Four years ago, he was sitting in his Copperas Cove home feeling emotionally and physically bankrupt. He had been issued two canes by the Veterans Administration, but they either weren’t effective or they broke. That’s when he read about Free Canes for Vets, a non-profit based in Florida.

Willis placed a call to the group’s founder, Oscar Morris. After discussing his issues, Morris told the veteran in no uncertain terms he simply needed to make himself a cane. Willis remembers saying that he didn’t know how to make one, and Morris’ response was simple: believe in yourself and just do it. Four years later, he’s carved over 230 canes, and he continues to improve on his craft. Now he’s carving canes at the rate of approximately one every 24 hours, some with intricacies he’s learned to include, such as a unit crest or branch of service.

Copperas Cove Veteran Carves and Gives Free Canes to Disabled Counterparts

Photo: Facebook/Canes For Veterans Central Texas

Together with his daughter, Skyler Kline, as well as his friends, Megan and Jared Kent, Willis produces veteran canes from his garage, even making use of old Christmas trees for the purpose. In December 2019, he accepted 1,500 of them for his projects, which he carves daily. One cane of which he is particularly proud is one he produced for Joe Galloway, a long-time war correspondent and co-author of the book “We Were Soldiers Once… and Young.” Galloway truly appreciated the gift, calling it “one helluva fine walking cane.”

Copperas Cove Veteran Carves and Gives Free Canes to Disabled Counterparts

Photo: Facebook/Canes For Veterans Central Texas

The Christmas trees weren’t the only surprising source for canes. A volunteer who resides in Allen produced some of them himself using diamond willow, which he had come across in British Columbia, Canada, as well as up in Alaska. He contacted Willis to ensure each one was distributed to a veteran properly. Likewise, someone else brought a trailer full of black walnut all the way from Wisconsin for Willis to carve! And he also manages to gather cedar nearby for some of his canes. From the humble beginnings of needing his own support to producing that for others with a second-hand lathe and a new grinder, he’s come a long way, and now he has hopes of constructing a workshop.

Each cane he produces is gifted for free. To support his craft, his daughter started Willis a GoFundMe page for postage and supplies. His hope is that he’ll be able to make 1,000 canes in 2020. He presently has 400 orders.