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A vet's final mission: helping others

By CLIFF HARRINGTON | The Charlotte Observer | Published: October 17, 2015

MONROE, N.C. (Tribune News Service) — Garland Denny never gave up until he got your attention.

Several years ago, I was an editor in the Observer’s Matthews office when, after a series of phone calls from him, I visited his Monroe home so he could tell me about his mission.

Mr. Denny dedicated his life, up to his last day, to helping veterans. He died on Tuesday at age 84.

He wasn’t a large or imposing man. When I met him, he was a bit frail following heart surgery. However, his focus and message were as pointed as an arrow.

“Who’s going to take care of veterans when they get to be my age?” he once told the Observer. “It just can’t keep going the way it is now.”

Mr. Denny wanted to raise money for military veterans by getting a commemorative stamp and coin, and a special savings bond - with the proceeds going to veterans. He carried his crusade from town to town, county to county, to legislatures, the U.S. Congress and beyond.

He died with his goal unaccomplished, but that does not mean he failed.

He got President Barack Obama’s attention. The President met with Mr. Denny last August.

“He was persistent,” said Chuck Denny, Garland’s son, who joined his father’s crusade. “I was in the kitchen when he got a call from the White House last year, asking him to come to the American Legion convention to meet the president.

“When he got to the convention center, they gave him a front-row seat and someone told him he’d have to move. He replied, ‘No sir, I’m here on order of the President of the United Sates and the only person who will make me move is him.’”

Mr. Denny managed to meet with U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-N.C., 41 other members of Congress, former presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, and former U.S. Reps. Larry Kissell Sue Myrick.

He also compiled a petition with more than 14,000 names of people who supported his efforts.

A father’s legacy

The Korean War veteran had passion. Chuck Denny said the day before Mr. Denny died that he did a radio interview to talk about veterans who needed help.

In the previous interview with me, Mr. Denny had lamented how shameful it was that veterans were going without medical care, homeless, impoverished and without proper mental health treatment.

A 2012 Veterans Affairs report estimated that 20 veterans commit suicide each day. In January 2014, a spot-check by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, identified 49,933 homeless veterans.

Mr. Denny wanted to help them all.

The Elk Garden, Va., native came to Charlotte in 1966. He had served in the U.S. Navy from 1948 to 1952. He married his wife, Margaret, in 1955 and the next year started his career as a structural draftsman with U.S. Steel.

When the family moved to Charlotte, Mr. Denny and his brother, John, started their own business doing structural drafting for Steel Fab, Southern Engineering and Owen Steel of Columbia.

Garland Denny and his wife raised three children. The couple moved to Monroe in 2002. He retired in 2006.

That’s when he started his quest to help veterans.

Chuck said he will continue his father’s work. He said recent efforts to get the commemorative stamp and savings bond again have been denied. He also said that won’t stop him.

“My father’s legacy will be that of a small man fighting,” Chuck said. “He did what he did and made the best of what he had. He has been told ‘no’ and that he couldn’t do it so many times, but to have that vision...look what he’s done. He’s advocated for people he knew needed help.”

Garland Denny’s noble efforts are worth people’s attention, even now. If you’re interested in supporting this effort, go online to www.Theamericanveteranfoundation.org.

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©2015 The Charlotte Observer (Charlotte, N.C.)
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