An army supposedly marches on its stomach.
This one — more platoon than army, given its small size — paints.
Fueled by coffee and doughnuts Saturday — the first full day of the Veterans Day weekend — about 30 volunteers repainted the third-floor living quarters at Liberation Veterans Services, a shelter and counseling center for homeless veterans at 12th and Hull streets on Richmond’s South Side.
A recently retired Army chief warrant officer with five overseas postings, including Iraq, was among those wielding a bucket of pale blue paint and a roller.
“Service pretty much made my life,” said Jenn Walker, a native of the Virgin Islands who mustered out at Fort Lee, south of Richmond in Prince George County, after 29 years in Army logistics. “I joined the military at 17. I don’t know much more than service.”
Michael Hickman, 61, who has lived at Liberation Veterans Services for seven months and did amphibious and helicopter duty during six years in the Marine Corps, said he and the other 25 men currently housed in the one-time Thalhimer’s department store are lucky to be looked after.
“We are exceedingly blessed beyond words,” said Hickman, a Richmond native and father of three forced from his home in the city’s suburbs because of financial reverses. Wearing a walking cast for a broken right ankle, Hickman said he will be living on his own again soon in North Side and hopes to resume work as a truck driver.
Members of several veteran-support groups participated in the spruce-up, organized as a tribute to Dean Taylor, 68, an Air Force veteran for whom Liberation Veterans Services was home and who died of alcohol-related illness in early October, not long before he was expected to move to his own place.
Taylor’s daughter, Tawana, and 16-year-old grandson, Jahrell, paid a thank-you visit to the volunteers.
Fighting tears, Tawana Taylor said she and her father renewed their relationship six years ago, when she and Jahrell, now a sophomore at Douglas S. Freeman High School in Henrico County and a wide receiver and defensive end on its football team, moved to the Richmond area from her native Norwalk, Conn.
“My dad wasn’t able to be in my childhood, but he would have liked to,” said Taylor, who works in the accounting department of a psychologist’s office.
Malik Shabazz, a case manager at Liberation Veterans Services, said Dean Taylor — steered to the center by the Veterans Administration — was a “success story”; that he was “stable and saving money.”
Volunteers, many in hoodies and T-shirts, worked quietly in the sun-filled sleep area that, because of its sparse furnishings, recalled a military barracks. At times, only the creaky floor spoke as volunteers moved from spot to spot, applying paint to the walls and waist-high partitions.
The Travis Manion Foundation, a national group named for a Marine lieutenant killed in combat in Iraq in 2007, brought together several organizations that assist veterans, including Team Red, White & Blue; Team Rubicon; and the Wounded Warrior Project. It was part of a countrywide effort, Operation Legacy, ahead of Veterans Day.
Travis Hebbe, a foundation volunteer and foreman for an industrial painting firm, said he joined the organization because the support veterans require after they leave the service lags what is available to them when on duty.
“Basically, I saw a void,” said Hebbe, 26, of Chesterfield County. “Once they get out, they don’t see a lot of people willing or able to help.”