Kirby Heard wore a POW bracelet growing up in the 1960s to support a soldier who was taken prisoner during the Vietnam War.
Last weekend she showed her support for the country’s soldiers again. The High Point musician participated in the Marathon Jam at American Legion Post 6 in Chapel Hill.
“I feel really strongly that our country needs to support the folks in the military,” she said. “I don’t want to sound political, but I feel like we drop the ball a lot.”
The seventh annual Marathon Jam on March 21 raised about $8,550 for Fisher House, which provides free lodging for families of soldiers and veterans receiving nearby medical care.
The money fell short of the annual goal, $10,000, after snow postponed the jam’s normal date, the last Saturday in February.
But money is not the only goal, said founder John Santa. The jams, which have spread to other cities, bring people together and make a huge difference to service men and women.
“Money is just the mechanism,” Santa said. “What is more important is somebody remembers and cares enough to not just shake their hands and say thank you for the service, but to do something to demonstrate the gratitude.”
“People don’t realize that 25 years later, these Vietnam veterans still have PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), and they still have symptoms,” Santa said, his eyes welling with tears. Events like the Marathon Jam that show the veterans they are not alone help them to heal, he said.
A husband’s laugh
From 1 p.m. Saturday to 1 a.m. Sunday, dozens of musicians pulled metal folding chairs into a big circle and took turns singing and playing on the banjo, guitar, upright bass and steel guitar. Santa alternated between several stringed instruments and harmonica, sometimes playing both at the same time.
Several pickers brought their dogs, which wandered around or slept while the musicians played.
This year, the jam helped promote Wags 4 Tags, a program that trains dogs rescued from animal shelters to provide companionship and support to soldiers with psychological or emotional injuries.
Santa recalled taking his dog Gibson to Fisher House, where he met a soldier who had lost both legs and one of his arms. As the man slept, his wife came out and asked Santa if she could take his dog into her husband’s room.
When she returned, she no longer had Gibson with her.
“She said, ‘I want to thank you,’” Santa recalled. “It’s the first time I’ve heard my husband laugh in three months since he’s been home.”
“I need to ask you a favor,” the woman continued. “Can we borrow your dog? Because my husband is asleep with his arm around your dog.”
A big concern
Lorie Southerland, manager of the Fisher House at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, said housing costs are a big concern for families visiting a loved one who has been injured or who is in crisis. The first question some ask when they come to Fisher House is how much it costs.
“It means so much to them to be able to come in to the place and not have to worry how much it is going to cost or how long they can stay,” Southerland said. “All they have to worry about is (their loved one) getting well.”
Most guests stay about a week, but she said one guest stayed six months.
During her four years at Fisher House, Southerland has met a lot of veterans and their families. She remembers a German family funded by Hero Miles, a program where travelers donate sky miles to those in need.
“I had a soldier who was stationed in Germany; he got hurt in Afghanistan,” she said. “So then he was in Fort Bragg getting medical care, and the Fisher House Foundation paid for his wife and daughter to spend Christmas with him.”
“Every day is awesome in Fisher House,” Southerland said.
The Marathon Jams in Chapel Hill have now raised nearly $80,000 for Fisher House Foundation.
Many musicians come back year after year.
This year Heard wore a black T-shirt that said “Iron Picker,” the name given to those who play and sing all 12 hours of the marathon jam. She’s now earned the title two years in a row.
But she no longer wears the POW bracelet.
“My guy came home, and I returned it to him,” she said. “I felt really lucky.”
To donate to the Marathon Jam for Fisher House go to marathonjam.com/