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Honoring heroes: His mission is a gift to veterans

Scott "Bull" Durham holds a set of the custom-engraved utility knives he offers to military veterans and their families.

DAVID MAIALETTI/PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER VIA TNS

By KEVIN RIORDAN | The Philadelphia Inquirer | Published: April 29, 2019

HADDONFIELD, Pa. (Tribune News Service) Scott “Bull” Durham has personally honored more than 5,300 U.S. military veterans.

The 62-year-old Haddonfield resident provides each honoree, or his or her family, with a handsome gift: a utility knife engraved with the honoree’s name, rank, dates of service, and other distinctions. His project is known as Honor Your Hero with a Military Multi-Tool.

“I’ve had the privilege of personally delivering these engraved knives to all of the living Medal of Honor recipients,” he says. More than 1,000 Gold Star parents or the siblings of service members killed in combat also have received a multi-tool.

“This is my mission. This is why I was born,” says Durham, a gregarious Indiana native who wears his patriotism on his sleeve. Right next to his heart.

“I’ve been thanking veterans for the past 40 years in (places such as) airports, and I wanted to do more. I wanted them to have something to hold, something that will be passed down,” he says.

“Each multi-tool is accompanied by handwritten letters thanking them for their service. Some of the recipients tell me the letters mean even more to them.”

Durham conducts the operation at his dining-room table. He distributes brochures to organizations all over the country, and orders from veterans or their family members come in by phone, email, or regular mail. Some of the requests come from people who know another recipient and want to present their veteran with a multi-tool as a surprise.

“Over 90 percent of the cost has been paid for by generous donations from people who believe in my cause, and I pick up the rest,” says Durham, a district manager for an insurance carrier who’s also a father of three, stepfather of two, and grandfather of two.

He purchases the knives from a distributor in Boston, has the engraving done by Paul’s Custom Awards & Trophies in Barrington, gets his brochures printed by Professional Printing + Copying in Haddonfield, and takes the packages to the post office on Saturdays.

Durham’s labor of love is person-to-person and word-of-mouth. He doesn’t have a website, or a Facebook page, although he does invite the public to Google “Bull Durham Knives.” He hasn’t set up a charitable organization with a board of directors and all that; keeping it simple keeps it more manageable, he says.

He started the project in 2014 after seeing the multi-tool online. He ordered several, and had them engraved in honor of his father, Richard Durham, who served in the Coast Guard from 1951 to 1953 and died in 2003. He gave them to his three siblings and their mother, Janet, all of whom were deeply moved.

“When I saw the effect this had, I thought, ‘I could take this national,’” said Durham.

A few days later, he got in touch with Judi Tapper, then president of the New Jersey Department of American Gold Star Mothers Inc. Her son, Navy SEAL David M. Tapper, was killed in action during Operation Enduring Freedom in 2003.

“He said, ‘You don’t know me, but I have a project I’d like to run by you,’” Tapper recalls. “He told me about engraving and giving the knives, and I thought it sounded wonderful.”

She was even more impressed after Durham fulfilled a pledge to provide an engraved multi-tool for all of the mothers attending an upcoming meeting of Tapper’s group. “They were just so amazed, and thrilled,” she says.

“We Gold Star families have our shrines, in little corners, or shelves, or coffee tables. I have a bookshelf, and I have Bull’s knife sitting right by my son’s picture.”

Herschel “Woody” Williams, a Marine and the only surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the World War II Battle of Iwo Jima, received a multi-tool and has presented others to between 25 and 30 fellow veterans.

“The name engraved makes it very personal,” Williams, a 95-year-old West Virginian, said. “Bull is extremely generous. He just likes to do things for people. And you don’t find a great number of people like that.”

Durham is modest about his effort, which he wishes he’d started long ago. He also wishes he had served in the military, instead of accepting a scholarship and going to college after graduating from high school.

“I’ve gotten 500 beautiful phone calls, and 1,500 notes or emails, from recipients. The rest I don’t hear from, and I’m not expecting to,” he says.

“If I can give one vet or Gold Star family a minute of solace, and gratitude,” Durham says, “it’s all worth it.”

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