COPPERAS COVE, Texas (KWTX) Disabled Copperas Cove veteran James Willis found new purpose after coming up with an idea for a new use for discarded Christmas trees to benefit other vets with disabilities.
“I just want to be there for somebody and give them something to remember,” he said.
Willis, a veteran with Alpha Troop 1-7 Cav, was paralyzed in a tank accident during Operation Desert Storm.
He retired from the Army with a 100% disability and found himself unemployable.
“I felt useless,” he said.
At least until he hit on something useful to do with old Christmas trees, which he now crafts into walking canes for other veterans with disabilities.
“I just started driving around the neighborhood and picked up Christmas trees,” he said.
Word quickly spread, and each year since Willis has made more than 200 canes for veterans all across the country including Joseph Galloway, a Vietnam veteran and the co-author of the 1992 book “We Were Soldiers Once…and Young,” about the four-day Battle of Ia Drang in 1965 that was the basis for the 2002 movie, “We Were Soldiers” starring Mel Gibson.
Willis says the canes he crafts with their knots and bends represents the soldiers they’re for.
“They might look beat up but as a veteran you’re going to be beat up,” he said.
“That’s just who we are now.”
And, he says, he’s always ready to make another one.
“When somebody calls or messages me about a cane, that’s when I start on a cane,” he said.