'It keeps you going:' Veterans receive hundreds of Valentine's cards from kids across Canada

'It keeps you going:' Veterans receive hundreds of Valentine's cards from kids across Canada

Albert Scott from the suburban Miramichi neighbourhood of Loggieville was a teenager when he joined the army in 1951.

He served for 28 years, and throughout that time, was deployed to countries that included Korea, Germany and Egypt. 

Some of his memories are sombre. 

He slept on the ground in a "filthy hole" and in tents for a year while in Korea, the 86-year-old man recalled this week as he opened handmade Valentine's Day cards from schoolchildren all over Canada.  

But Scott, or Scottie as his friends call him, also carries with him lighthearted memories that he loves to share with his companions at the Ridgewood Veterans Wing in Saint John, a long-term care institution for veterans.

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

In Egypt, he was in charge of doing the paperwork and buying the food that would feed about 40,000 soldiers. 

He remembers a hot summer day when a truckload of cabbage came in and soldiers growled at him about the long, uneatable stems on the vegetables.

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

As he chopped them off with his cleaver, he grabbed a rotten one and threw it at the vegetable truck.

"It went right over the top of the truck. And Gen. E.L.M. Burns was coming over to see it. It hit him right on the shoulder. When I looked down at the ground and saw a pair of brown boots there, I knew something was wrong."

Scott also remembers meeting his wife when he was in the army in Chatham. They had five children, who prepared for every Valentine's Day creating cards with their parents at the kitchen table.

"We never missed a Valentine's dance together," he said of his wife, who died more than 20 years ago, as he held a card with a cut-out heart, beads and a pop-up butterfly plastered on the front. 

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

Valentines for Vets

The Ridgewood hospital received a big box with about 400 cards for the vets this year, as part of the Valentine's for Veterans program. 

Ken Newell, a 98-year-old veteran at Ridgewood who joined the army when he was 19 because "it was the job to do," has read dozens. 

WATCH:  Veterans open the Valentine's Day cards that hundreds of kids around Canada have created for them.

"Without your bravery and courage, we probably would not be here today. Stay warm this winter. Best wishes in the future. That is very nice," said Newell as he read a card.

The Valentine's for Veterans program began in 1989 when the late newspaper columnist Ann Landers encouraged readers to create special cards for veterans in long-term care facilities throughout Canada and the United States. 

Veterans Affairs Canada got involved with the program in 1996 and has been delivering the students' handmade cards to veterans ever since.

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

"They read them through and quite often there is a tear or two," said Sandra Parker-Short, an activity worker at the veterans hospital. 

"It's emotional. To know that they are thought of and that it wasn't in vain and they are not forgotten."

This is the sixth year Ridgewood received cards. 

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

But some cards are delivered in person by students, and Parker-Short said this is what veterans enjoy the most — meeting children and spending time with them.

'You saved our world'

Grade 4 and 5 students at Hubbard Avenue Elementary School in Oromocto participated in the Valentine's for Vets program this year.

"All my class is making this and I know that they are putting a lot of effort and thought into these Valentine's Day cards," said 10-year-old Kennah Kirkbride.

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

"[Veterans] have a lot of scars and those scars may hurt, but it is kind of like a nice reminder that you did it. You saved our world. And if you weren't there for us, our world would probably be in chaos."

Parker-Short said veterans like Theresa Smith, who is 99, decorate their rooms with the Valentine's cards.

"They put them on their windows, they put them on the doors, they carry them on their walkers with them, on their pockets."

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

Parker-Short said they have been receiving more letters and visits from local schools every year.

"It's nice to educate the children that there are people out there and why we are all here is because of the sacrifices that were made," she said.

Newell said he would like to thank all the students for their love. 

Maria Jose Burgos/CBC

When asked what is the one war lesson he would like to pass on to all the schoolchildren who have sent him cards, he said: "Be helpful to other people. That's the main thing. Love and help other people."