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Legion Riders + Santa, a dose of good news

American Legion Riders bring gifts to Whitehouse family

For the Whitehouse family, Christmas came a little early this year.

Disabled American Veterans Department of Indiana Legislative Chairperson Judy King and American Legion Riders took Retired Sergeant First Class Phillip Whitehouse and his family presents Wednesday evening.

King said this came about in two ways: first, she was asked to check on retired veteran Phillip Whitehouse, and she was asked to find a family for the Legion to adopt.

“At the end of October, I received a text asking me if I would check on a veteran in Shelby County,” King said. “I said I was in Florida and I would when I got home. They said ‘okay, I want to tell you his story.’

“Last year, we had met a Gold Star Mom, meaning she lost her son or daughter in combat,” she continued. “We adopted her last year because the Legion Riders, that’s what they do, they adopt families. We adopted her last year, carried her a Christmas tree, cookies and poinsettia. So this year, they asked me to find a family. And I said, I got one.”

Whitehouse retired from the Army as a Sergeant First Class in October of 2019 after 21 years.

“I joined the military straight out of high school in 1998,” Whitehouse said. “I joined as a military policeman, and went to basic training out in Fort McClellan, Alabama. I served 21 years. I did two tours in Iraq, and two tours in Afghanistan.”

“I was wounded in Iraq in 2003 by an improvised explosive device on the side of the road,” he continued. “I received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with ‘V’ Device for Valor.”

While he was stationed in Hawaii, he met his wife, Wanda, also a veteran. They’ve been together for six years and have three kids.

“So while we were both stationed in Hawaii, we met there, and then we connected two or three years later, while she was out of the military and I was still in,” Whitehouse said. “We’ve been married almost five years, been together six.”

Retirement has been “short so far,” Whitehouse said.

“Pretty much right after retirement is when I got sick, so I haven’t been able to enjoy it that much,” he said.

In June, he stepped on a nail on his deck, and it didn’t heal properly. When he went to the doctor, he was diagnosed with Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS), a rare bone marrow disorder, and Leukemia.

“The way I am is that there’s always somebody worse off than I am,” he said. “I knew that I was strong enough and my family was strong enough to come through this. So mentally and emotionally I was okay, because I knew that we’d be okay.”

Wanda said that it was hard because in the military, soldiers prepare their loved ones in case they don’t come home; but when this happened, no one was prepared because Phillip was home and safe.

He is receiving palliative care for his MDS. This type of care is aimed at treating the symptoms to improve the quality of life. His palliative care began last week.

“Every day is a challenge,” he said. “It’s got its ups and downs.”

Whitehouse had a bone marrow transplant in October. Luckily, he has a twin brother who was a 99 percent match.

“And during this procedure we found out my brother and I were lied to for 40 years,” Whitehouse said. “We found out we were identical twins and not fraternal.”

“We weren’t really lied to, it’s just a joke we play on our mom because her doctor told her we were fraternal because we were different (embryo) sacs, but we found out we were identical and that’s why he was a 99 percent match,” he continued.

The transplant was successful, and Whitehouse is now in remission. He started chemotherapy last week.

“I started Chemo again last Monday, so I have to do Chemo for a year,” Whitehouse said. “While doing Chemo, it’s a constant cycle of getting sick and not feeling good.”

King said she first met their family when the Legion visited the Whitehouse family on Veteran’s Day. King and the Legion had presented quilts to veterans at Capone’s that day, however because of Whitehouse’s condition, he wasn’t able to attend.

King fell in love with their kids.

“They have three children, they’re 3, 6, and 7 (years old),” King said. “So we made a special trip out there with the motorcycles all revved up from when we pulled up. The kids came running up from outside the house and they were thrilled to death.”

A friend of King’s sang the song “Traveling Soldier,” and they presented Whitehouse with his quilt.

“And then another Legion Rider said ‘this is pretty cool Judy, we need to do this for Christmas,’” King said. “‘We need to come back.’”

They wanted to do something special for the kids, Anthony, Tristan and Analise Whitehouse.

“The kids are irresistible,” King said. “We’re out there singing the Veterans Day song and the three year old is beating up the seven year old sister because she won’t let him get in the sewer drain!”

King, Hill and the Legion Ridersstopped by the Whitehouse house Wednesday evening – and they brought Santa. King said that the event took place “through the window,” meaning the kids did not come outside and the Legion didn’t go in.

The Whitehouse family made it clear they didn’t need a lot, so King, Santa, and the Legion brought a couple of gifts.

“We pulled up and the kids were at the big window with the Christmas tree, and then they moved to the front door, and the little girl, her mouth just dropped wide open, and she reached to touch Santa’s hand through the window,” King said. “It was freaking priceless.”

Santa Claus is also a veteran, King said, and along with the toys, he made the family a hand-painted U.S. Army medallion.

The Whitehouse family is one of six that the Legion provided gifts for this year.

The American Legion Riders normally spend about $500 on Christmas for families they adopt, said member Cheryl Hill. They raise money for this by hosting fundraisers throughout the year.

“Of course, 2020 has been a terrible year so everything was cancelled, but we have rides, we have cornhole tournaments, chili cook-offs – whatever we can make some money at, we try to do,” Hill said.

Last year, the Legion had one family to buy for. This year they had six.

“So we got those gifts, then I put a feeler out on Facebook with the Rider’s page, and I put it out on Let It Out Shelbyville or something, about any veterans out there who are having a bad year and need help with Christmas for the kids,” Hill said. “We had six families total. So we bought for six families.”

Hill said their Toys for Tots drive was also successful. The Riders also donated stocking-stuffers to the Salvation Army and contributed to a local food pantry at a church.

“I’m happy with how this year is going to end for the Riders,” Hill said. “Next year is hopefully a better year, that we can do things, and maybe make it all a little bit bigger.”

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