“I Felt Weak, Embarrassed And Lonely. Your Visit Made Me Feel A Little Bit Like A Hero Again”

The Pin-Ups for Vets women smile and pose with a veteran in a hospital bed.

At InspireMore, we search for the best, inspiring stories so we can share them with you. Sometimes, though, the stories we tell are possible thanks to submissions from our very own readers. For example, this one comes from a woman named Gina. Her story is about how she created Pin-Ups for Vets as a way to raise money for U.S. Veterans.

With this in mind, keep scrolling to learn more about Gina’s story from her own words. Note that the story has been edited for clarity; however, no additional details have been added.

“Eighteen years ago, I heard stories of our young Vets coming home from the Iraq War with burns, traumatic brain injuries, amputations, and PTSD. I also learned that the Veterans Hospitals were treating more and more injured service members each day.

I knew I wanted to do something to help my peers who were facing the greatest challenges of their lives and to support the hospitals caring for them. I also wanted to honor the service of my late Grandfather who had honorably served in WWII.

Pin-Ups for Vets is Born

I had always loved the aesthetics of the 1940s and the old-time pin-up girls of that era. I also admired the wonderful nose art of women painted on the WWII bombers. These ladies boosted morale for the Troops and helped them remember the girl next door who they might return to after the war.

I decided to create an old time pin-up calendar to raise money for the hospital programs helping our injured Troops. With no budget, I scoured the thrift stores for vintage outfits and purchased low-cost wigs of different colors. I also asked a photographer I knew if he would kindly take the photos.

I put the calendar together in 2006 and printed a few hundred of the fundraiser calendars to try to sell. I sold all the calendars. Then, I donated all the money to my local Veterans Hospital for a program treating the Iraq War Veterans.

The Calendars Prove to be A Massive Success

I thought I’d do the one calendar and make the single donation. But, surprisingly, people started to ask when next year’s calendar would be ready. I posed in the next five calendars, always trying to look like different old-time pin-up girls.

Meanwhile, I was working as a sales manager in the hotel industry and living a double life. During the week, I wore dark business suits. But on weekends, I wore my pin-up girl alter-egos to deliver the calendar gifts of appreciation to the hospitalized Veterans. I never told my work colleagues what I was doing on the weekends.

Fast forward 18 years: I left my job in 2010 to devote full time to my project. Now, it’s a nonprofit organization. I decided in 2014 to start featuring female Veterans in the calendar. Since then, the fundraiser calendars have only featured female Veterans in ’40s hairdos and fashions.

The ladies love that they can continue to serve their fellow Veterans by volunteering on our “50-State VA Hospital Tour.” This allows them to be our volunteer goodwill Ambassadors.

The Impact of Gina’s Work

Since the organization first began, we have accomplished the following:

  • Over 16,000 visits to hospitalized Veterans
  • Purchased $120,000 worth of brand new rehabilitation equipment to VA Hospital therapy departments across the U.S.
  • Shipping hundreds of care packages to deployed Troops
  • The purchase of food and clothing for homeless Veterans
  • Thousands of dollars provided for household items as Vets transition into housing
  • Provided morale-boosting make-over days of pampering for military spouse caretakers and Gold Star wives who have lost their husbands to war

The Pin-Ups For Vets nonprofit organization has been honored by the U.S. Congress, Oprah Winfrey, TV’s Mike Rowe, the America Legion, the Veterans of Foreign War, KISS’s bass player, Gene Simmons, and America’s deployed Troops who have flown 11 U.S. flags over military bases and on missions in honor of the work we do to support the military community.

We look forward to getting to the 20 year mark in two more years. We also plan to continue our support for those who have bravely stepped up to serve our Country. It’s been an honor for me, as a civilian, to serve our Veterans and Troops and to highlight outstanding groups of female Veterans in our calendars.

Man Shares Appreciation for The Pin-Ups For Vets Organization

I’ve received hundreds of thank you notes over the past 18 years, but this one was very special to me:

‘Dear Gina,

I recently came across your Facebook page and remembered you from your visit to the VA Medical Center in [redacted] a few years ago. I was a patient in the psychiatry ward suffering from severe PTSD and depression after my tour in Fallujah, Iraq with the Marines.

I had very little hope and felt a tremendous amount of guilt and loneliness – it was definitely one of the hardest times in my life. I cannot possibly express in words how grateful I am that you visited our unit in the hospital.

Your kindness, generosity and smile made a horrible experience for me a little more tolerable. Since that time, because of you and many other people who reached out to me when I was suffering, my life has improved allot.

I’m a junior now at [redacted] and am applying to medical school this year with the goal of becoming a surgeon. I have also landed prestigious internships with [redacted].

Kindness Has A Ripple Effect

My life today is incredible. I am surrounded by really good friends, professors and mentors. I have a lot of fun running races and training cross-fit, and I am able to draw upon my experiences in combat/at home to help others who suffer from emotional pain.

Being in the hospital at that time was one of the most painful and humiliating experiences of my life. In Fallujah, I was trusted to be the lead in our patrols and combat missions and had received a commendation after being ambushed at a very close distance by the enemy. To go from being a highly regarded Marine Infantryman in combat to a patient on a locked psychiatric ward was one of the most de-humanizing experiences I have ever been through.

I was the only veteran from the Iraq War there. I felt weak, embarrassed and lonely, but your calendar and your visit made me feel a little bit like a hero again. It was a scary place to be.

Thank you so much for that visit, and I’m looking forward to sending the 2015 calendar out to a few patients in the hospital. You are an amazing person and a Hero and I will always be grateful for that visit.'”

You can find the source of this story’s featured image here!

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