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A promise to a friend

If there’s a name that everyone knows in the veterans’ circles around Hendricks County, it’s Danny Nelson. Nelson is a Vietnam veteran who lives in Brownsburg and serves as the chaplain for the American Legion, the VFW and an organization called The Forty and Eight. He has a passion for taking care of veterans that all began with a promise he made to his friend back in Vietnam. While serving in the First Infantry Division, or “The Big Red One”, he had a friend who was killed during combat. As he was bringing his friend back to post, he made him a promise that one day he would take care of veterans. Upon returning from Vietnam, Nelson has done just that.

A big part of being chaplain is visiting assisted living centers and talking with veterans. Each week he visits a different location, first to Brownsburg Medals, next to Traditions, then to Sugar Grove, and the last week to the Oaks. While he’s visiting, his main goal is to meet whatever needs the veterans have. Sometimes that means helping them fill out forms to apply for medical benefits, sometimes it can be helping them to get a medal they have lost, but more often than not, it’s just lending a listening ear. 

“Along the way, I’ve gotten pretty close with some of the veterans I work with. Some of them have passed and that’s been very hard,” mentioned Nelson.

When Nelson was initially offered the chaplain job, he declined, being unsure if it was right for him. A phone call from another veteran caused him to reconsider.

“When they asked me to be the chaplain I said no, but a guy named George Brown, who’s a retired Sergeant, called me and said ‘You’re gonna be the chaplain and you’re gonna like it!’ So I just talked to him recently and I thanked him for making me be the chaplain. Outside of being a husband and a father and a grandpa, it’s probably the most rewarding job I’ve ever had,” Nelson shared.

Another big part of being the chaplain is speaking at funerals. Just this month, Nelson will be completing his 281st funeral as chaplain. Still, after doing so many funerals, he still gets choked up as he handles this important duty. At one point he was feeling embarrassed for having to hold back tears, but an encouraging word came from a wise man.

“Pastor Reeves, who used to be at Connection Pointe, was working the same funeral as I was. When we got done I said I’m embarrassed for the tears and he said ‘Don’t you dare be embarrassed. When you can’t have feelings for a person, that’s when you need to quit. I’ve gone home and cried after many of them,'” Nelson remembered.

During the funerals, there’s one phrase Nelson always emphasizes as a word of encouragement for the family members who have lost someone. It says: “Only a veteran’s family, when you see our flag blowing in the wind, I’m waving at you and letting you know I’m ok where I am now. When you see our flag hanging limp, I’m praying for you and those I left behind and dreaming of our wonderful life together.” Being able to give such a message to these family members is a great privilege for Nelson.

It is certain that Nelson’s friend who died in Vietnam would be proud to see how he has kept his promise and has even gone far above and beyond. The veterans in Hendricks County are lucky to have him and all of Hendricks County should be proud to have him be a part of our community. 

For info on the American Legion Post in Brownsburg visit: brownsburgpost331.org

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