The HVWP’s Legacy of Love

by Van Garner, VA Medical Center — Murfreesboro, TN
(published in Veterans’ Voices Spring 2003 issue)

I recall a time of extreme despondency, a time when life was void of any fruitful expectations. I was like a wind-blown leaf floating upon a sea of disaster, with no hope of being reunited with others of my kind.

This feeling of emptiness threatened the core of my existence. I walked the halls of mental affliction in the Veterans Administration Hospital, Murfreesboro, Tenn. For me, there was no hope for tomorrow; there was no escape from my tormented mind.

A year passed, then two. I could see no relief from the strange circumstance that had destroyed my thinking processes and left me as a vegetable in a lonely, forgotten field of endeavor. This is until I heard about the Hospitalized Veterans Writing Project. Frankly, I was afraid to try my hand at writing, for a failure to win would have driven me deeper into my shell of insignificance.

At this time, I needed a catalyst of accomplishment to stir the creative juices lying dormant in my mind. Hello, H.V.W.P! Hello to a new chance of mental redemption, a chance to unveil the real me and toss my heart through pages of the written word. No, it was not easy for me to express myself on paper, just as it was a frightening experience to speak a single word.

One might say I gambled on winning. After all, I thought, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Fuzzy-headed, I tried a four-line poem. My emotions about my effort were mixed. When the listing of winners in the H.V.W.P. contest arrived, my poem did not make it. So, while I was disappointed, I decided to try again. It was as though something inside me yearned to succeed and I could not turn away from the challenge.

I began to wonder how HVWP was started and who had the foresight to establish such a far-reaching program for us hospitalized veterans. Later, I learned that Elizabeth Fontaine founded this organization in 1946, just after the end of the World War II. With this newborn knowledge, I was compelled to write a fictional short story and, lo and behold, it won first prize! Thus began my 35-plus years of writing for HVWP. I have won many prizes during my career as a writer, and quite a few poems, articles and short stories have been published in Veterans’ Voices magazine, which was founded by Margaret Sally Keach in 1952.

I was honored in October 31, 1998, with an opportunity to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of H.V.W.P. in Kansas City, Mo. I was given a plaque of achievement and was recognized as an honorary member of the Board of Directors.

The entire meeting was videotaped and everyone who spoke was much more relaxed than I. But, I can say, I was proud to know I did it. In fact, I was so proud that I took one of the tapes and had it reproduced. I gave a copy of it to my doctor at the VA Outpatient Clinic in Chattanooga, Tenn., and he said it took a lot of courage on my part to deliver my speech.

I look back with admiration for those wonderful ladies who made dark clouds disappear and replaced them with sparkling sun rays. Now, I salute all the officers of present day HVWP for reaching out all over the United States of America to us veterans. This caring and giving is the core of HVWP. This is their legacy of love. And the legacy goes on!

These sample prose pages are provided compliments of We thank all veterans for our freedom. And for personal help, a thanks is sent to vet Paddy Kelliher.