Before he passed away in January 2021, U.S. Navy veteran Charles Brackins was receiving care from Covenant Hospice when he expressed his wish to publicly thank a young letter-writer. We are grateful for the opportunity to fulfill that request, and grateful for Charles Brackins’ life and service to our country. Mr. Brackins passed away before this article was published and is shared with the permission of his wife, Marie Brackins.
When U.S. Navy veteran Charles Brackins came home from Vietnam, he didn’t get a warm welcome from his fellow Americans. Like countless other veterans of his day, he quickly learned that people in his home country didn’t want to hear about where he’d been or what he had been through.
“When we came home from Vietnam, they made us wear civilian clothes in San Diego to keep us from being seen in uniform,” Brackins said from his home in Dandridge. “We wore civilian clothes and grew beards just so we wouldn’t be recognized as a sailor over in town.”
Veterans of the Vietnam War share a special connection and a special inner pain that few understand. Many histories of that time period note that in addition to their sacrifices during military service, these men and women returned to a country that was often indifferent or ungrateful, and sometimes hostile.
Many Vietnam veterans have aged with unspoken emotional burdens while suffering physical burdens as well. About 10 years ago, Brackins learned he had lung cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos in an aircraft carrier engine room.
Each year when Veterans Day came around, the American flag flew over Brackins’ home in a quiet display of patriotism. “Even though it’s caused me more problems than I’ll ever take care of,” he said, “I’m still proud of my time in the service.”
Marie Brackins, his wife of 32 years, is proud as well. “I’m proud of him and proud of what he’s done,” she said. “He helped us to be free.”
A Special Delivery
As a Covenant Hospice patient, Brackins received regular visits from a chaplain. Covenant Hospice chaplains provide encouragement, prayers and, for patients who are veterans, a pinning ceremony to thank them for their service.
Chaplain Tom Rayford presented the special commemorative pin to Brackins – along with something extra. Local schoolchildren write letters to veterans in hospice care, and one of those letters ended up in Brackins’ hands.
To Brackins it was as powerful as any best-selling novel or presidential address. In a world where a younger generation often seems to move at warp speed with little regard for older folks, someone had taken time to craft a well-worded expression of interest.
The young student asked which branch of the military Brackins had served in, then offered some advice:
Thank you for your service. Were you in a war? If so which one?
Never back down to your enemies because if you do you could get bullied (like if I do) or get defeated by your enemy. Thank you for fighting for our freedom as an American. Always follow Phillipians 4:13 “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Please respond and have a great day or night solider!”
“It blew my mind,” said Brackins. “It’s hard for me to believe a kid that age could have the thoughts he had of the veterans. I think that boy is something else.”
A Ready Response
Brackins was determined to respond. “I would not leave [this earth] without answering that letter,” he said.
He thanked the boy for supporting veterans. He explained that he was in the U.S. Navy for 12 years and was a veteran of the Vietnam War. His letter continued,
“I spent six years on an aircraft carrier in the South China Sea, then I was transferred to a destroyer ship. I enjoyed my time in the military. I knew God was watching over me all the time…I wish you the best in whatever you do in life.”
Brackins said he wanted to publicly express his appreciation and admiration for his young pen pal. “I’m proud of that little boy. I’m just tickled for him – somebody that would have a mind like that.” Brackins also wanted this simple story to be an important message to others: to respect veterans and care about what they’ve been through. He believed strongly that teaching children the facts of history is important, as well as teaching children to respect the men and women whose lives have been forever changed with service to their country.
The letter Brackins received reassured him that mission is being accomplished here in East Tennessee.
Covenant Hospice sponsors a letter-writing campaign to thank veterans in hospice care and veterans who are receiving care in every Covenant Health hospital. If you would like to participate, send your “Dear Veteran” letter of thanks to: Cindy Winterberger, 3001 Lake Brook Blvd., Suite 101, Knoxville, TN 37909.