Vietnam Vet Says, 'Thank You for Saying Thank You'

Michigan school children embrace a veteran—and he embraces them right back.

Posted in , Jun 8, 2017

Vietnam vet William “Tommy” Taylor and his new friends, Jacob and Jordan

William “Tommy” Taylor, 72, of Ypsilanti, Michigan, was pacing through the lobby of the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System en route to a doctor’s appointment when two fresh-faced boys in matching turquoise Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor t-shirts approached him with a smile.

“Are you a vet?” asked the boys.

“Indeed, I am,” responded Mr. Taylor.

“Thank you for serving,” they said.                                                

And then they handed him a 9 x 12 white envelope.


Mr. Taylor, who had served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War years, did not have time to examine the envelope. He thanked the boys and hurried with his wife, Jan, to check in for his appointment, wondering what tests his primary care physician might give him. But once he settled in to the cushioned seats outside the doctor’s office, he turned the envelope over.

He saw this: On the outside, a silly face with eyes bobbing on antennas, oversized bright blue hands, blue feet and a floppy red tongue. 

On the inside, a sheet of white, lined loose-leaf paper with a greeting penned in rust-colored marker, a little airplane decorating the bottom. 

Thank you for making a difference, protecting our lives. And thank you for being a dedicated veteran.

Sincerely, Jacob and Jordan

Mr. Taylor’s face broke out into a huge smile. The lines around his eyes softened. 

"This is just the sweetest thing," he thought.

And sweetness ought to be shared. Mr. Taylor passed the hand-crafted card around to everyone seated in the waiting area. He even showed it to his doctor. Later that evening, he showed it to friends who play in his band--the bass player, a navy veteran, and his lead guitarist, an army vet.  

And he's shown it to every other person who has walked through his front door since.

The years Mr. Taylor spent in the military meant a great deal to him. “As an American, serving my country was both a duty and an honor,” he said. And it’s a tradition that runs in the family, with roots dating back to the Revolutionary War. 

His father, Claude Taylor, was a career navy officer who served in World War II and in Korea. Jan’s father, Paul Hale, served as a Corporal in the US Army’s Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron during World War II and was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroism.

Jan’s daughter, Annie Canaday, 45, served 12 years in the U.S. Air Force, including three tours in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, and still works on the Gunter Air Force base in Montgomery, Alabama.

Her older daughter, Joy Boykin, 46, a critical care nurse, worked at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, during the Iraq War. Ms. Taylor’s grandson, Bret Taylor, 22, is currently doing basic training in Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

Jacob and Jordan’s handmade card felt like an embrace of their entire family.

“We shared our card with so many veterans,” said Ms. Taylor. “It warmed the hearts of many.”

After a time, Mr. Taylor thought, "I ought to thank those children. And their teachers!"

Ms. Taylor was the letter-writer of the two. She propped herself up at the computer and started typing. Mr. Taylor mailed the completed letter off to the school.

The thin, white envelope, stamped with an American flag, arrived in the mail, tucked in between bills and school correspondence. Esther Jakar, an assistant Hebrew and Judaic Studies teacher, opened it. A thank-you card for a thank-you card? “Do such things exist?” she asked, half-joking.

Ms. Jakar handed the letter to Carol Gannon, a fifth-grade general studies teacher who oversaw her students distributing the cards at the VA Hospital. 

“When I read Mr. Taylor’s letter, I cried,” confessed Ms. Gannon. “His response affirmed much of what I teach my students about the importance of reaching out to people, that you need to physically and emotionally connect with individuals to show them how much you care.”

It also affirmed the importance of saying thank you. “We start the process of educating our kids to thank people at a very young age,” said Ms. Gannon, “and veterans are an important population to thank!”

The Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor has a time-honored tradition of every class, kindergarten through fifth grade, writing homemade cards to veterans. 

“It’s no surprise that Jacob and Jordan’s greeting went straight into our hearts,” said Ms. Taylor

The Taylors framed both the greeting and the envelope and propped them on their front table in the living room, like precious family heirlooms. The Hebrew Day School of Ann Arbor has plans to frame Mr. Taylor’s thank-you letter. In the meanwhile, the teachers and students have invited the Taylors to stop by the school for a brown-bag lunch.

In this digital age of communication, human connection can sometimes be elusive.

But look how far just one handmade heartfelt thank-you card can go.

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