As a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a former post commander in Pennsylvania, Bill Terheun used to visit a state veterans home to bring donations and spend time with residents there.
But recently, the 84-year-old World War II veteran, who's been in the N.C. State Veterans Nursing Home in Salisbury since April, was on the receiving end.
Members of the Harrisburg American Legion Post 523 and Auxiliary collected items to create 200 gift bags for veterans at the nursing home, patients at the VA Medical Center in Salisbury and veterans living in Harrisburg assisted-living facilities and nursing homes.
They distributed 99 of the bags - one for each resident - at the State Veterans Nursing Home Dec. 12.
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"I know people looked forward to it then, and I know all of us were looking forward to it now," said Terheun, who wore a Santa hat as he watched Legion members from his wheelchair, which was decorated with tinsel.
The week before, first-graders at Harrisburg Elementary School had helped, cutting out triangle-shaped Santas with googly eyes to glue to the paper gift bags.
The Legion collected donations at boxes set up at several area businesses. The bags contained an assortment of gifts, ranging from fleece blankets to T-shirts and personal-care items such as tissues and toothpaste.
Legion members went door to door at the nursing home, handing the bags to veterans in each room or gently setting them at the foot of beds where they lay sleeping.
Ed McGee, an 82-year-old Navy veteran from Winston-Salem, sifted through his gift bag and put on a hat he found inside.
"I'm like a kid," he said, pointing to the gift. "That's the reason I'm wearing the hat."
Diane Chance of Stanfield wiped away tears as she passed out the bags. Her father was a World War II veteran.
"It's the most rewarding thing to help someone who helped us get to where we are today," she said. "They bring a blessing more to us than us to them."
When they stopped to talk with the veterans, legion members heard stories about their lives and military service.
They talked with Terheun, who served in the Pacific on the aircraft carrier USS Monterey during World War II. As a surgical technician, he assisted doctors performing surgery on injured troops. And when patients died, he was responsible for placing them in body bags.
Janice MacLeod, who heads the Harrisburg American Legion's annual project, fought back tears as she reflected on their visit.
"They might appreciate what's in the bag, but we appreciate them."