Photo courtesy of Cutler family | A flag rests on a restored bench to be given to a wounded veteran.
When Legionnaire Ed Cutler heard about a veteran returning from war after losing both legs, he wondered what he could do. The man, Greg Caron, had received a house from Building Homes for Heroes. Cutler realized he had a bench he'd repaired that might be a nice housewarming gift and small thank you.
Since then, he's given away dozens of benches to wounded veterans. He said he intended to give them to servicemembers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq.
"At the same time I heard from a 91-year-old veteran from World War II who's still got shrapnel in his leg and he's got a picture frame full of medals on his kitchen wall. How do you say no to a man like that? Those men literally saved the world back in the 1940s. So naturally I gave him one," Cutler said.
So WWII and Vietnam vets have been among the recipients, as well as a few injured police officers and children battling disease, who Cutler calls "wounded warrior(s) of a different size and shape."
Benches fill Cutler's garage, his driveway, his backyard. Now he has 25 in tow, ready for refurbishment. He's sometimes able to work on a few at a time.
"It's starting to look like a bombed out cathedral with the benches in different stages of disrepair," he said. "I try to keep the place neat as possible."
When he sees a rotting garden bench going to waste in a yard, he knocks on the door. If the owner doesn't plan to fix it, he asks if he can to donate it to a veteran.
First, Cutler removes all the wood--much of it oak, which he said can't take the strain of being outdoors, and sandblasts or power washes the metalwork. He scours the piles of lumber at Home Depot for straight-grain, no-nonsense planks - "knot-free if possible," then sets them out in his driveway, occasionally flipping them over, to dry. He cuts them, sands them and stains them.
"I put this stain that's supposed to be good for 25 years on it. I don't know—I won't be around to check it," he said.
He welds the metal when needed and paints accents in the designs. The benches are built to last.
"When I started this, I thought it would be hard to find the benches—the old ones to be redone. But that's turned out to be real easy. People drop them off in the driveway and I'm getting them all over the place," Cutler said. "The hard part has been finding candidates—veterans who got hurt — that I can give them to. It's been really difficult."
Veterans organizations can't share medical or personal information, so finding wounded veterans who could use the benches has been largely through word of mouth, Cutler said.
Most of the recipients have been in New England--many in Connecticut and Massachusetts, and as far as Lewiston, Maine.
"I figure a young G.I. or young Marine or something might be sitting on his front steps all depressed and kind of sad his life has been changed," Cutler said. "Then all of a sudden some old guy shows up in his driveway and says, 'Here you go, Joe. Thanks for your service.' And we carry (the bench) and put it by the rose bushes or by the flag pole or by the patio, and it just might make his day, make him feel he’s not forgotten."
Cutler served in the Army from 1958 to 1962 in Germany. He said his father served in the 1930s and a daughter served in the Air Force and Army. But he said the benches are a way of showing gratitude.
"I've just been blessed. So if there's something I can do, why not pay back a little bit? It's just as simple as that. There's nothing more to it," he said. "I wish I had a thousand of them to give away."
This project shows patriotism needn't be grandiose or expensive to be meaningful.
"It's not a cure for cancer, it's not the answer to world peace, it's just a park bench, a simple park bench. But if it gives a guy a boost or something for a day, why not do it?"
If you know a wounded veteran who would like a garden bench, please contact American Legion Post 36 in Windsor Locks, Conn. at 860-436-9986, and ask for Cutler.
To read more about Caron and his service, click here: http://www.buildinghomesforheroes.org/heroes/usmc-sergeant-greg-caron