Adopting a holiday spirit

The Baltimore Sun

Patients in long-term care at Perry Point Veterans Affairs Hospital in Cecil County frequently receive gifts from organizations this time of year, but yesterday's presents from a Harford County fitness center were personalized.

Gary Perry, 52, unwrapped a Dallas Cowboys jersey with his favorite player's number. Louis Francis, 88, could not wait to return to his room and turn on his new clock radio. Moses Moore, 82, beamed when he opened a carton filled with 36 Butterfingers candy bars.

"Candy is all I want and to go home," said Moore, a Navy veteran from Denton.

No one in the room was more surprised with his gift than 96-year-old Esau Jones. In addition to a plaid flannel shirt, the Army veteran of World War II had a bonus present - an orange baseball jacket with the Negro League insignia stitched onto the sleeves. Jones is a veteran of those leagues, too, and when the donor heard about Jones' Negro League connection, he found the jacket on eBay.

A retired Eastern Shore waterman, Jones recalled that he was a catcher some 70 years ago, although he couldn't remember on which team.

"All Star" is printed across the front of the jacket, but Jones insisted, "This means I am a superstar. After all these years, I finally got a jacket."

In all, more than 50 veterans had their wishes fulfilled by staff and patrons of Body Styles by Mel, who participated in the second annual Adopt-a-Vet program. Melvin K. Royster, company president and an Army veteran, said he hopes to make the gift-giving an annual tradition.

"These people took the time to find out what each veteran wanted," said Margaret Hornberger, hospital spokeswoman. "They really went out of their way and made these gifts so personal."

A few of the residents at the hospital's Community Living Center planned to wait until Christmas to open their gifts, but most were already reading, playing or in Moore's case, eating them.

John Buschman, 87, a former Army Air Corps pilot, found a B-24 among the pages of planes pictured on his 2009 calendar. He flew that plane in World War II and was shot down over Germany on his sixth mission, he said. He was so pleased with the photo that said he might leave that photo page up all year.

Perry, who is awaiting knee surgery, returned the favor, giving his benefactors a stained-glass picture he made and a card signed by many of the patients.

"Nobody likes being in a hospital, but today we all feel special," Perry said. "This kind of stuff means the world to us."

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