The workers approached each piece of cherry wood with a delicate, yet skilled hand.

Against a backdrop of the whining of power saws and flying sawdust in the workshop at Marc Adams School of Woodworking, artisans had spent an entire weekend cutting, grooving, sanding and staining hundreds of pieces of wood.

The scene was a common one nearly every weekend throughout the year at the Whiteland-based woodworking school. But this particular project carried added significance.

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Woodworkers from all over the country, many of them military veterans, had come together to honor their fellow soldiers with specially built flag boxes.

Marc Adams teamed up with Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6978, based in New Whiteland, and 26 woodworking students to hand-build beautifully made cases to display the American flag. In the span of 48 hours, they had created 200 of the boxes, which the VFW distributed throughout the Midwest in late 2016.

The cases were meant for the families of veterans who had died, to preserve the flags that were precisely folded and presented at their funerals in recognition of their military service.

“When we were all in the service, we all had the same thing in front of our name: U.S. It didn’t matter if it was Navy, Army, Air Force, Marines,” said Delbert Smith, a member of Post 6978. “Even though we’re all veterans now, we still have ‘U.S.’ in front of our names.”

Building reputation

Adams has been woodworking professionally for 28 years. The Whiteland native has grown the school into one of the most respected woodworking academies in the world. The institute will host 175 workshops this year while accommodating more than 3,000 students from around the world.At the same time, the school has become a force for philanthropic good in the community. Last year, the school helped craft 78 pews for St. Thomas Aquinas seminary in Virginia. Adams spearheaded a fundraiser to raise more than $170,000 over the past three years for the Narrow Gate Foundation, a residential discipleship program that trains young men for their careers.

In that spirit, Adams came up with the flag box project. While he was making funeral arrangements following his father-in-law’s death in 2015, a funeral director he was working with made an off-hand comment that in many instances, veterans’ families can’t afford even a simple display case for the flags draped over their loved ones’ caskets.

An idea percolated in Adams’ mind, and he discussed it with Don Metcalf, a longtime employee at the school and member of the VFW. The school could host a weekend workshop to create as many flag cases as they could, then the VFW could distribute those cases to the veterans’ groups who needed them.

“Marc is very tuned in to veterans’ causes, and it’s something that’s very near to his heart. To be able to help him with this project, and be able to marry that with the VFW, that were two things that were central in my life,” Metcalf said.

For the VFW, it was an opportunity to partner with an established and respected business in the Whiteland community to help veterans and their families, post commander Chris Baldwin said. At the same time, the project fit into the organization’s desire to change perception of what veterans’ groups are all about.

“It was a worthy cause, and seemed like something we could do to get members to participate,” he said.

VFW Post 6978 spends much of its time throughout the year engaged in activities designed to improve the lives of veterans throughout the area, Baldwin said. The veterans’ relief fund provides assistance to those who might be struggling to pay bills, get medical help or have some other emergency.

The post provides money to a transportation fund for veterans through Johnson County Access, and visits elderly veterans throughout the year.

Members of the post serve on local honor guards, giving proper military honors at veterans’ funerals.

“While we’re there for those veterans, for me it’s a lot more support for that family who lost that loved one, to be there for them in their time of need. To see their reactions, they’re grateful and honored that we’re there,” Baldwin said. “These flag cases symbolize the same thing to a lot of us — to be there and have that support.”

‘He knew what worked’

The workshop, titled “A Weekend to Honor Those Who Served,” was on July 30 and 31. All 25 openings for the event sold out the first day registration was open, the spots mostly taken by veterans themselves. More than 250 years of military service was represented that weekend.Adams and other staff members created a plan of operation to maximize efficiency and help move the project as quickly as possible.

Designated leaders led teams to cut the sides of the boxes, miter each one and sand the pieces down. The participants had only 48 hours to do the work, so organization had to be flawless, Metcalf said.

“(Adams) knew what had to be done by what time. He had made several of these in different methods of assembly, so he knew what worked and what doesn’t,” he said.

All of the pieces had to be stained and dried, then assembled by hand before the workers left.

The flag boxes were squares, separated diagonally into two chambers. The triangular-folded flag would fit perfectly into one compartment.

The other featured a brass nameplate with wording chosen by the veteran’s family and was open to include medals, ribbons or other mementos.

“When they walk by it, they’ll have that feeling of goodness, to look back and reflect on that loved one and all of the great and wondrous things that they’ve done,” Baldwin said.

Once the main assembly work had been done, VFW Post 6978 stepped up to close out the project. Members volunteered to do the finish sanding, coating and recoating and to ensure the boxes were ready for delivery.

Working with veterans homes in Indiana, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois, Post 6978 divided up the boxes they had crafted and dropped them off in each location. Members drove more than 2,000 miles to deliver the cases.

“This is not only for our state, it’s helping several states. That gets our name out to other states to let them know we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Mike Haggard, commander of Post 6978.

The feedback from each of the homes underscored how many veterans’ families could be helped with the boxes.

“When I delivered to the one in Manteno (Illinois), the director said, ‘We can use one of these today for one our veterans’ families.’ There is definitely a need for them,” Smith said.

While the workshop produced a large number of flag boxes to distribute, Adams and the VFW wanted to ensure that the project could be ongoing and spread to other areas of the country.

Every participant was provided with the templates to make the boxes, so they could go back to their own wood shops, woodworking clubs or veterans’ organizations and continue to make the cases.

VFW Post 6978 has a set of plans as well, to make them for its own members when one dies. The post might also craft a number of boxes that can be sold to the community to use as a fundraiser, Baldwin said.

“People might want them for fathers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts. Anyone where they’d want to display the flag. Those things are important,” he said. “This whole flag case thing is a newer idea that people are starting to do.”

Money generated from the sales would help pay for supplies to make more cases, as well as support the VFW’s veterans’ relief fund.

“It’s important that we as an organization show support for these fallen veterans. By doing this, it shows that we really care for the people who have gone before us, and recognize their importance to us,” Haggard said.

Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6978 flag box project

Though the flag box project is complete, VFW Post 6978 would like to continue work on more boxes in the future.

The money to help pay for materials in the future will come from the post’s veterans’ relief fund, which is used to assist veterans who face emergency situations.

To support VFW Post 6978’s relief fund, checks can be sent to 215 U.S. 31 North, New Whiteland. People interested in donating can also call 317-535-4041.

Information can also be found at vfw6978.us or Facebook.com/vfw6978

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Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.