Twenty years ago, World War II veteran Brent Lowther made it a goal to help take care of those war veterans who are less fortunate and don’t have enough to eat.
So the retired Army and Air Force sergeant took a small, folding table and, with brass bell in hand, started sitting outside strip malls and grocery stores in his native West Virginia for months at a time during the ‘80s and early ‘90s. He hoped to collect enough money to help prevent former soldiers, who had once risked their lives for their country, from going hungry or homeless.
“There wouldn’t be a United States of America if it weren’t for the GIs who fought and died for our country,” said Mr. Lowther, 83, who now lives at the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in Northwest D.C.
“They’re not getting the proper respect and recognition for what he or she had done for this country,” he said yesterday.
Mr. Lowther’s efforts have paid off. Since the mid-1970s, he has raised more than $30,000, all of which went toward funding the construction of four war memorials in West Virginia and Ohio. Now he wants to start raising money to fund a memorial honoring veterans that would be erected on the grounds of the U.S. Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home.
Mr. Lowther, a disabled veteran who was wounded in the arm and foot during World War II, said he believes Americans have forgotten about their soldiers. “They’re in too big of a hurry,” he said. “Some just don’t care.”
Many soldiers are now homeless or unemployed, Mr. Lowther said. Others have little money to buy food, clothes and shoes. Some can’t afford to repair their cars or pay their rent.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 23 percent of all homeless adults are veterans. It is estimated that more than 200,000 veterans may be homeless on any given night and that twice that many experience homelessness over the course of a year, statistics show.
About 45 percent of homeless veterans suffer from mental illness. More than 70 percent suffer from alcoholism or drug addiction, statistics show.
“It’s a very sad state,” Mr. Lowther explained. “These people risked their lives for our country. Now they need our help.”
A decorated war veteran who, among other awards, received the Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, Mr. Lowther wasted no time in trying to help his fellow veterans.
After retiring in the late 1960s from the American Cyanamid Co., a chemical plant in West Virginia, Mr. Lowther started visiting different businesses, asking them to help the veterans.
He then began sitting in front of Kmart stores, Kroger grocery stores and other storefronts throughout Parkersburg, W.Va., ringing his bell to encourage passers-by to make a donation. On a good day, he would raise about $200 for the vets.
“People were always very friendly and patriotic,” Mr. Lowther said. “My main purpose was to get veterans some help.”
On the weekends, he would pack up his car with clothes, furniture and food and drive down to the local Salvation Army in Parkersburg, where he distributed the goods to other veterans for free.
Even a three-week stay at the VA Hospital in Clarksburg, W.Va., didn’t slow Mr. Lowther down. When he found out the hospital didn’t have a television, he bought a dozen with the money he had previously raised.
Mr. Lowther also helped build three monuments in his hometown of Parkersburg. One is the Vietnam-Korean Veterans Memorial; the other is a monument paying tribute to women who served in all U.S. wars. A fourth monument in Belpre, Ohio, honors all veterans.
For his work in veterans affairs over the years, Mr. Lowther has received dozens of commendations from presidents, including Ronald Reagan, and local and federal officials, thanking him for his efforts.
Mr. Reagan wrote: “I congratulate you for your fighting spirit and for the determined way you have pursued your goals. You are a shining example for others to follow. Keep up the good work.”
Despite his success, Mr. Lowther said he is no longer able to continue his fund-raising efforts because of poor health. That’s one of the reasons he left West Virginia and moved to the Soldiers’ and Airmen’s Home in the spring. “It was getting more difficult to live alone and having to do the cooking and cleaning on my own,” he said.
Mr. Lowther said he wants to pass the torch on to someone who will continue his cause of helping veterans. “It takes a special talent and perseverance to do what I did,” he said. “I wanted to set an example for other people that it’s important to help others and that we should have more honor for our veterans.”