For the Vets

Shirly Jean Hill, left, working closely with her granddaughter, Tivy senior Emilie Kocurek, checks each item in a stack of donated clothing to make sure it’s in good repair, then sorts them for size, before offering them to veterans in need.

Shirley Jean Hill says she receives donations for Hill Country veterans at the Veterans’ Center Monday through Friday, but her “work week” starts Tuesday.

“We have to check everything that comes in,” she says. “Food has to be unopened, and can’t be past the expiration date. We sort books by subject, and make sure they’re appropriate. Clothing gets checked to make sure it’s clean and not torn, then we sort by size. We also sort any bedding we get by size.”

She says everything gets laid out Tuesday, in preparation for distribution the second and fourth Wednesdays. That’s when the veterans who have needs come and take all they can use.

But sometimes they receive donations veterans can’t use. she says she turns to her daughter, Sarah Jane Kocurek.

Hill says, “She gets on her computer and looks around for other helpers who may need our overflow. A couple of weeks ago we got a whole six-foot table full of adult diapers. Sarah found a woman somewhere south of here who looks after children who nobody else wants, and who live on ventilators. She could tape the adult diapers on the kids who can sit in wheelchairs, and spread them on beds under the ones who couldn’t. Sarah loaded her Suburban, drove down and delivered them. When the woman asked, ‘How much,’ Sarah said a ‘Thank you’ was all we ever ask.”

Besides her daughter, Hill says she also gets a lot of help from her two grandaughters. Emilie is a senior at Tivy High School, and Kimberlie a sophomore. Both spend hours at the Veteran’s Center helping their grandmother keep the place running.

“Even my son-in-law gets involved,” she says. “Kris Kocurek works at Central Auto, and if a veteran’s car isn’t running, he’ll work out how to get it fixed, and the vet back on the road.”

Friday Hill says she’s busy preparing for any weekend events at the center. They recently hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for veterans, and Hill says she ended up cooking 19 turkeys. “Which is about all I want to see for a while.”

She says there was an outpouring of help from the Kerrville community, both assisting her and donating, but most of the donors didn’t want any credit. Hill says it’s all worth it, when the cooking reminds the veterans of home.

Besides cooking, planning, and distributing, Hill says she also spends a lot of time cleaning house, and very importantly, listening to veterans who need someone to talk to. “And that’s really the most important thing I do. A lot of lonely vets really need someone to hear their stories.”

Hill says she was born in Amory, Miss. “We didn’t have a hospital, so the bottom floor of the old Glen Gilmore Sanitarium had been set up as a makeshift hospital, and that’s where I was born.”

She says she was third-generation. Her father, Ed Adams, was a carpenter/farmer, and her grandfather, William Adams, was a Methodist preacher/farmer. Hill graduated from Nettleton High School in 1968, and went to work for a garment plant making camouflage pants for soldiers. In 1971 she told her boss she wanted to see what was going into those pants, so on 8 July she enlisted in the Army, and reported for Basic Training at Fort McClellan, Ala.

Hill says, “It was my first time away from home. I was in a barracks with a bunch of other women, and they were talking about how some had been married, a couple of them had children, one said she used to be a stripper, and the stories got wilder from there. This little country girl was wide-eyed!”

She says when she wanted to write home, she discovered she didn’t know her full address, having never needed it before.

“Little” caused Hill a couple of other problems. She says all the issue uniforms were too big for her, and all the shoes were too wide to fit. Then, because she and another recruit, nick-named “Waddles,” were the shortest in the company, they always got the kitchen police job of cleaning out the garbage cans. “A local farmer picked up our full cans and used the garbage to feed his livestock. When he brought them back, we had to physically get inside them to scrub them clean.”

Hill says being an “Adams” at the time meant she was always first in line, for medical checkups, to get her shots, and in the teargas tent. “They marched us in with masks on until we made a line around the edge of the tent. Then they threw in the grenade. We had to recite our Social Security number before we could leave. Everybody just gave them a string of nine numbers to get out of there.”

After completing Basic Training, Hill says she completed Advanced Individual Training as a secretary, then was assigned to her first duty station at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

She says, “There were some demonstrations at Ft. McClellan, and they just sent six of us off without orders. For all six of us, it was our first airplane flight, so we got ourselves through that. We were supposed to check in with the military liaison office at the airport, but when we got to San Antonio it was midnight, and the office was long-closed. We finally found two taxi cabs to take us and our gear to Fort Sam, then had to pool about every nickel we had to pay the fare.”

But she said the problems didn’t end there. “We started with personnel, and had to explain why we didn’t have orders. They finally began to process us, fingerprinting and IDs and such, but then they asked us what school we were supposed to take. When we told them we weren’t there for a school, it turned out we were in-processing in the wrong place, so they shipped us over to the office where permanent party in-processed. When we got there we had to start all over with why we didn’t have orders.”

Hill says she was eventually assigned as company clerk at a dental school company. “I started processing paperwork for all these soldiers with names I had never seen before. One of the sergeants had to give me a crash course in how to pronounce Hispanic names.”

One of the students, from Fort Polk, turned out to be Alan Hill. They started by going out for hamburgers after night school classes. Hill says her parents and other family all came down to San Antonio when they were married in the Academy Chapel March 1, 1973.

After Alan was transferred to Fort Sam they served two more years, then Hill left the Army for civil service in January of 1975, and Alan became a civilian paramedic in August. They moved to Mississippi, where Hill earned her associates degree in secretarial science at Itawamba Community College, in Fulton.

Hill says she gave birth to Sarah Jane May 21, 1982. She and Alan returned to San Antonio, and in 1993 decided to drive to Kerrville for some “real barbeque.” Liking what they saw, Alan found a position at the VA Medical Center, and Hill worked for the nursing home. They retired from the VA in 2014, already involved helping vets at the Hill Country Veterans Center.

She says she also works through her memberships in the Vietnam Veterans of America and the American Legion.

But Hill says, “My favorite project is the annual Salute to Women Veterans. We invite and honor all the local women who have served. Emilie and Kimberlie Kocurek wear period uniforms donated by women vets, and they learn those women’s stories and become a living history of them for the event.”

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