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Frank Gray

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Letter delivers encouragement to vets


When the letter arrived at Shepherd’s House, a shelter on Tennessee Avenue for homeless veterans, the person handling the mail looked at the name on the envelope, realized that person had moved out and stamped the envelope, “Return to Sender.”

And back the letter went.

A few days later a phone call came. That letter, sent to a man named Winston McClure at Shepherd’s House, was a handwritten note from the president, and well, the White House wanted it delivered to him.

The lesson, I suppose, is that one should look at the return address on letters – unless you fancy getting calls from the White House.

Barb Cox, who runs Shepherd’s House and didn’t have the faintest idea where McClure had moved, said she called the White House back, told them to mail the letter back. She assured them she would find McClure and see he gets the letter.

McClure did get the White House letter last week, but a little background about McClure helps.

Back in 1970, when the war in Vietnam was raging and anti-war protests were raging in the U.S., McClure enlisted in the Army. He’d always wanted to be in the military, he said, and he wanted to get away from home, which at the time was Baton Rouge, La.

McClure said he spent most of his time in Vietnam on guard duty, sitting on top of a tower at a military outpost.

When he left the Army, he came to Fort Wayne, where he worked at the State Developmental Center for 25 years, then at OmniSource for five years.

But McClure encountered problems in his life and in late 2010 ended up at the VA hospital in Marion for three months.

After he was released around January 2011, McClure, with nothing to his name, moved into Shepherd’s House.

In time, he sat down and wrote a letter. He addressed it to the office of the president. He explained that he was a veteran living in a shelter that was home to a lot of homeless veterans in recovery. McClure isn’t sure whether he included a brochure or not.

A letter of encouragement, he wrote, would go a long way toward helping the vets there straighten up and become productive citizens once again.

McClure waited, and no response came. Awhile back, he moved out of the shelter and got an apartment of his own, where he lives on a small pension from his work at the developmental center.

Then he got the call from the VA. There’s a letter for you at Shepherd’s House, and they say it looks important.

It was finally a response, but not from a White House secretary as McClure had expected.

“To Winston and all our veterans at Shepherd’s House.

“America will always be grateful to you for your service and sacrifice on behalf of our freedom. May God bless you all.”

It was signed Barack Obama.

“What’s it mean to me?” McClure said. “The president must think a lot of veterans to write. He cares.”

McClure said he offered the letter to Shepherd’s House so they could frame it and hang it somewhere, but Cox said he should keep it for his grandchildren.

“But I don’t have any grandchildren,” McClure said.

For now, Cox hopes to make a copy and frame that, a little reminder that even the president has heard of her shelter run on a shoestring budget.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.