Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress
Local resident Stephen Hutson dedicated 16 years to his country, serving in active and reserve duty as a corporal in the United States Marine Corps.
Now, he is focusing his energy on helping fellow veterans find ways to make a difference in Cherokee County.
Hutson serves as the Junior Vice Commandant of the Marine Corps League Detachment 1381, the group who collects items locally for the national Marine Corps Reserve “Toys for Tots” campaign as well as provides an honor guard for military funerals and color guards for civic events.
“It's not about me, it's about helping others,” he said.
Hutson is among the current generation of a family rich in military service tradition: An uncle many generations removed fought in the Revolutionary War, while closer to home, a “seventh or eighth grandfather” fought in the Battle of the Alamo. One of his sons, now an officer for the Tyler Police Department, served in the Marines, upholding that tradition.
“It's kind of a family tradition thing, passed from generation to generation. It's not something I have to do, it's something I need to do. We're just a patriotic family,” he said, adding this helped form a mindset geared toward service.
“This is the least you can do for your country. It's like John F. Kennedy said: It's not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country. A lot of people think of 'I' and 'me' too much, they need to think about what's better for 'us'?” he said.
Hutson joined the Marines after graduating from high school in 1982, and was assigned to tours in California, North Carolina, Honduras, Australia, the Philippines and the middle East, where he took part in Operation Desert Storm.
Helping create an awareness of veterans' needs in a rural area of the state is at the forefront of his mind, because, as a vet injured while serving in Desert Storm, he understands first-hand the importance of doing so.
“They've earned (the support), there's no question about it,” he said, adding that groups like the Lone Star Military Resource Group, coordinated by veterans advocate Julianne Sanford, are a step in the right direction.
“I think it's been really positive, because it's bringing a lot more awareness of our veterans' needs in East Texas,” he said. “They bring awareness to our community that there are veterans living here, and these folks are an asset to the community because they have a lot of knowledge – many have seen and done things that a lot of people (haven't), so they help enlighten and educate the community. Plus they still willing to serve the community.”
LSMRG acts as a clearing house of information for veterans seeking assistance. The group recently organized a veterans and first responders appreciation event in Bullard that also gave vets the opportunity to learn more about what services are available to them.
Hutson said he participates in the group's military farming project, which “teaches vets how to farm – farming is not just raising crops, it can be cattle or sheep or goats, or even bees.
“I'm a beekeeper, and I've been teaching some of the veterans how to keep bees, and we've been teaching them farming techniques, about raising gardens and setting up outside as farmer's markets in Jacksonville and Rusk,” he said.
His involvement with the Marine Corps League began several years ago after learning about the group while waiting to welcome his son home at a regional airport.
“My oldest boy was coming back from Iraq and I called the Welcome Home Service group in Tyler and they greeted him at Tyler Pounds Field. One of the men there walked up and asked, 'are you a member of the Marine Corps League,' because I had my Marine Corp stuff on. I said, 'No, what's that?' because I didn't know such a group group existence,” he recalled.
Today, his is a familiar face during the holiday season as he visits different drop-off sites for the Toys for Tots campaign, a responsibility he oversees joyfully.
“When it comes to kids, all military are big-hearted – there's a special place in our hearts for them,” he smiled.
Recently, the local detachment also created the Ellis Warrior Fund, a local effort of the league's Wounded Marine Project that helps veterans recuperating from injury. Funds benefit the Warrior and Family Support Center in San Antonio, where local Marine Eric Ellis received treatment after being wounded by an improvised explosive device while serving in Afghanistan.
“There was a need – someone from the group found out about it and said, 'Let's help',” Hutson said, adding that these types of events serve as a wake-up call to the community to not only remember those who have been killed, “but (wounded troops) trying to make that recovery and come back into society.”
Pausing, he added, “Really, thats what the Marine Corps League and the Lone Star Military (group) are trying to do: Bring the rural community's attention to veterans and give them recognition. Let's not overlook them, they're an asset to us.”
Men and women who serve the military “are the President's own, who go anywhere in the world where the President asks. They're dedicated,” he said.
“I tell people that a veteran is someone who has signed a blank check to his government, (offering) everything, from his life down. It's someone who is willing to give up their life for their country and their people. And that's what keeps our country free and strong: Our young men and women are volunteering for our military, putting their lives on the line for us. They lose a hand for us. And that speaks volumes to me,” Hutson said.