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Purple Heart project: Canes again carved for wounded vets after Covid pause

NewsPurple Heart project: Canes again carved for wounded vets after Covid pause

For the first time after a three-year Covid pandemic disruption, military members of a wood carving club presented eagle-headed, insignia-emblazoned walking canes to combat-wounded veterans.

Roughly 37 veterans from across the Treasure Coast and the United States met at the Fort Pierce Navy SEAL Museum Feb. 18 where they were given hand-carved canes by Rep. Brian Mast on behalf of the Purple Heart Cane Project. The ceremony was the first held since the last event on Jan. 18, 2020.

Now the members of the Purple Heart Cane Project Carving Club have started crafting walking sticks for next year’s ceremony.

Ervin Hayward, of Port St. Lucie, secretary of the Purple Heart Cane Project, carves a piece of bass wood during a gathering of veterans and civilians who meet every Tuesday at the Spanish Lakes Fairways on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Fort Pierce.

A group of roughly 10 people were gathered Tuesday morning carving shapes such as stars and animal figures in the craft room of Spanish Lakes Fairways clubhouse in Lakewood Park, 6102 Spanish Lakes Blvd., where the club meets weekly.

Ervin Hayward, of Port St. Lucie, served two tours of Vietnam 1967-1970 and was awarded four Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star.

He was given a Purple Heart cane at a previous ceremony and last year joined the wood carving club where he has already carved a eagle-handled cane to be presented to another veteran.

Altogether it took about three months until the finished product, he said.

“Don’t forget now, I just started,” said Hayward. “They work with you. They’re real good.”

Although he serves as the Purple Heart Cane Project secretary, on Tuesday he was continuing work on his own wood carving project.

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“I’m working on a mouse,” he said.

The class began meeting last year in the community room of the Spanish Lakes development after a former club affiliated with the project halted meetings altogether during the early years of the pandemic.

Although the Purple Heart Cane Project members operate and instruct the club, its membership is open to anyone with an interest in wood carving. Some of the club members live in the age-restricted community, while others like its president Lloyd Lasenby travel there to instruct and oversee group business.

“It’s a carving class. A lot of us affiliated with it have been in the military, but it’s not a requirement to join,” said Lee Orre, vice president. “They start out carving a couple simple things with one of the (advanced) people working with them because some of the people have never carved before.”

With over 30 years at the hobby, Orre is one of the more advanced wood carvers in the club.

“It’s a learning process like anything else,” he said.

Lasenby, of Fort Pierce, said he has been part of the project since its emergence on the Treasure Coast around 2015.

George Stukshis (left), of Fort Pierce, a board member with the Purple Heart Cane Project, and Lloyd Lasenby, president and cofounder of the Purple Heart Cane Project, speak about their eagle head carvings during a gathering of veterans and civilians who meet every Tuesday at the Spanish Lakes Fairways clubhouse on Tuesday, April 4, 2023, in Fort Pierce. The non-profit group carves canes for those who served and were wounded in combat against a foreign nation.

He said it was brought to Florida by fellow “snow bird” wood carvers from Oklahoma and Michigan.

Lasenby, who was a infantry squad leader on a military tour in Vietnam and also a member of the Special Forces, or Green Berets, is a member of several local veterans groups.

Word of mouth through networks, he said, are how each group of veterans are largely chosen for next year’s cane ceremony.

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“We talk to people and word gets out,” he said.

Along with Treasure Coast veterans, former purple heart recipients from South Dakota and Michigan, along with others in nearby Brevard County received canes this year.

Veterans must submit an application showing discharge paperwork and must be present or have someone present at the ceremony on their behalf to be considered, Lasenby said.

More information about the Purple Heart Cane Project, or how to enter a veteran for consideration, can be found at its website https://purplehespanrtcspanneproject.org/ or by calling 772-466-5295

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