A teenager thanked a building full of old veterans and spouses Saturday by making them the beneficiaries of his Eagle Scout project.
Drew Grandgenett, a Millard West High School senior, doled out close to 120 fleece blankets that he, his Boy Scout Troop 408 pals and his family members made over the past three months. Each blanket contained the insignia and images of the military branch in which each recipient served.
Before the ceremony started at the Eastern Nebraska Veterans Home in Bellevue, 84-year-old Alice Blackford rolled up in her wheelchair. “Who's the young man responsible for this wonderful project?” asked Blackford, widow of Korean War veteran Walter Blackford. She shook hands with the teenager.
And so it went Saturday afternoon for Grandgenett. Veterans and spouses thanked the boy for honoring them.
Grandgenett, whose long brown hair was cut straight and simple all around his head, pulled his crumpled speech out of his pocket. He decided against reading it and spoke what he felt.
“I want to thank all of you for all that you have done for us,” he said. “You made this country what it is.”
Then about 10 Boy Scouts and a batch of parents and relatives distributed the blankets, each labeled by veterans home staffers with the name of the appropriate recipient.
“Oh, aren't they beautiful? Look at that,” said Winfred Roberts, a flight engineer, or on-board mechanic, on B-24 bomber flights over Germany in World War II. Roberts, 90, said he participated in 35 bombing missions as a member of the Army Air Corps, which became the Air Force.
He pointed to the image of a sleek fighter jet on his fleece blanket. “Of course we didn't have anything like that back then,” he said.
“He bombed the hell out of Europe,” said Louis Garrod, who was in the Navy during World War II.
Garrod's own military service took him to the South Pacific, South Atlantic and the Bay of Bengal, which touches India's eastern shore and Burma's western shore. Asked if he was ever scared during the war, he said: “Hah! All the time.”
The veterans home on Capehart Road opened in 2007 and houses almost 120 veterans and spouses. Roughly half of the residents are World War II veterans.
Boy Scout Troop 408 made each blanket out of two pieces of fleece cloth, one a plain color, the other containing military-branch symbols. They cut strips into each piece of cloth and tied the strips, connecting the plain piece to the piece containing the images.
Grandgenett said he had made “tie blankets” before. His two grandfathers served in the military and an uncle is a Marine veteran. Those connections helped him select his Eagle Scout project, which produced what he called “blankets of freedom.”
“It was a neat project that Drew came up with,” said Reed Grandgenett, his father. “It was really nice to thank them for their service.”
Alice Blackford said she was a den mother for Cub Scouts for a dozen years in Omaha. She loved Grandgenett's Eagle Scout project.
“I thought this was just absolutely a wonderful thing this young man did,” she said.
The celebration broke up. It was time for the Scouts to go home and the veterans to return to their rooms.
Garrod was among those who seemed pleased that a kid would think of guys in a veterans home.
“I'm 87,” Garrod said. “I've had a good life. I'm not packed. I'm not leaving yet.”
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