CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Thomas Reilly is a 14-year-old fascinated by history, especially military history. So, when he met World War II veteran Clarence Walters at an air show at the Chesterfield County Airport last year, he was star struck.
“Well, first of all, I thought, ‘whoa this is guy is pretty cool, he’s a living piece of history.’ There aren’t many WWII veterans left and he’s one of the bravest men that have ever lived,” said Reilly.
Walters’ daughter, Donna Walters Beverley, was also taken by the encounter.
“I thought it was incredible just for a 13-year-old boy to want to come up and shake his hand and say thank you,” Beverley told 8News.
Walters, a former nose gunner on B-17s, shared several stories with Thomas. When Donna invited Reilly and his family back to their home, Thomas jumped at the opportunity.
“I wonder what kind of stories are floating around in his head, and I wonder what they’re like and what his life was like,” Reilly said.
One visit parlayed into many.
“He had 30 grandchildren, and (Walters) kind of just took Thomas as number 31,” Beverley said.
But the 91-year-old’s health declined and he passed away earlier this year.
“When he passed away I was very devastated,” Reilly said.
As a way of remembering her father, Beverley took her dad’s cane and gave it Thomas.
“I asked Thomas to pass it along to someone else who could use it and would appreciate it,” Beverley explained.
That’s when Thomas and his family had an idea: “We thought, why give one cane when we can give hundreds of canes to veterans all across the state of Virginia?” Reilly thought.
“They invited me over for breakfast and sprung this on me and I was blown away,” Beverley added.
Thomas created “Standing Tall,” a non-profit aimed at building canes to give to veterans.
“We want everybody, especially kids, to take away a strong appreciation for veterans and how they’ve allowed them to keep their freedoms and when they look back at this they can always think about why they have it and why they’ll continue to have it,” Reilly said.
Beverley said, “it gives them a sense of pride and they’re making something and giving it to someone that can use it and it gives the veterans a reason to stand tall.”
On Saturday, November 19, there will be an event called “Standing Tall: Building Canes for Veterans” at the Chesterfield County Airport. School children are invited to come and build custom, patriotic walking canes and write ‘thank you’ letters to deserving veterans in need of walking assistance.
For more information about the non-profit or if you would like to donate, click here.