Visiting fellow veterans at Chillicothe's VA Hospital is a Christmas tradition for Johnstown's Jack Walsh.

Visiting fellow veterans at Chillicothe's VA Hospital is a Christmas tradition for Johnstown's Jack Walsh.

For the past 31 years, Walsh, a World War II Navy and Coast Guard veteran, has left Johnstown at 7 a.m. every Christmas morning in order to visit veterans at the hospital by about 9:30 a.m.

"A lot of them only have the shirts on their backs," he said. "They appreciate having someone to talk to that morning. Some of them may have wives or kids who don't see them on Christmas.

"This is my Christmas," he said.

Walsh makes the trip to Chillicothe as part of the "Gifts for Yanks" program that benefits wounded and/or sick veterans in VA hospitals at Christmas.

"A lot of ladies auxiliaries make up goody bags that include toothpaste and all kinds of stuff," he said. "We pick up toiletries, notebooks and T-shirts. The 'Gifts for Yanks' program was started back during World War I. Servicemen were called 'Yanks' in World War I."

This year, Walsh plans to make the trip with buddies from Johnstown's American Legion Post 254, including commander Bruce Tolle.
Tolle said this will mark his third or fourth visit to the VA Hospital on Christmas Day.

"It's very heartwarming," he said. "I'm not sure how to describe it. There's a certain camaraderie. There's something we have that's shared. I've learned over the years in meeting different people, I can almost tell without exception who's a GI. I can't explain it."

He said the veterans can use the gifts that include items ranging from writing tablets to soap.

Walsh said a buddy of his, the late Robert McCarty, got him involved in visiting the veterans on Christmas.

"When I first started going, my first wife, Donna, went with me," he said. "After I lost her, I went by myself. The legionnaires are busy. Now my wife, Lucy, and I go. Lately, several fellows from our post have been going. That makes it nice. We meet people from all over."

After signing in the gift boxes, he said, a volunteer distributes the presents.

Walsh, who moved to Johnstown in 1955, said the village is a community with kind and generous people.

In addition to visiting vets at Chillicothe, he and eight other friends from Johnstown's American Legion Post 254 recently visited veterans at the Ohio Veterans Home in Sandusky.

"We passed out Christmas gifts up there," Tolle said. "Some are living there in the home and some are in the hospital. It's good to do something for these guys who have been defending us."

"It makes my Christmas," Walsh said.