Purple Heart recipient awarded room makeover

Alan Kearns: 'It was very humbling'

CHASE — There is a 1992 song by grunge band Alice in Chains titled “Rooster,” which discusses the guitarist’s father, who served in the United States Army during the Vietnam War.

In the final verse of the song, the late singer Layne Staley delivers the words: “Walkin’ tall machine gun man, they spit on me in my homeland.” 

When looking back to a war that saw 58,200 Americans lose their lives over a 20-year period from 1955-75, this phrase serves as a constant reminder of the negative, disrespectful manner in which many combat veterans were received if they were lucky enough to ever step back on U.S. soil again.

Insults were shouted and, on some occasions, objects were thrown at men as young as 18, who did not choose to go fight the Viet Cong, but were instead drafted to do so.

As the years passed, the national perception of Vietnam veterans slowly and rightfully grew more sympathetic; support and charity programs for vets have begun to flourish, from the White House, all the way down to the local level. 

One Big Rapids business recognized the large veteran presence in and around Mecosta County, and has since taken the initiative to reach out and show veterans that their service hasn't gone unnoticed.

This summer, Gilbert’s Carpet Plus Color Tile of Big Rapids, launched its veteran dream room repair contest, which was open to veterans in Mecosta, Osceola, Lake and Montcalm counties.

Alan Kearns, a Chase resident, was the winner of the room repair and, as a result, he and his wife, Cathy, now have a brand new kitchen in their farm house.

“We found out in June — it was very humbling,” Cathy Kearns said. “There are so many deserving veterans out there, and to be chosen was really an amazing, wonderful gift.”

With new flooring, doors, cabinets, counters, drawers and a new sink backdrop, the Kearns’ kitchen hardly resembles its former self. 

Kearns said she and her husband are thankful for the workers who spent hours making the kitchen makeover come to pass, despite a handful of delays from supply issues brought on by the pandemic. 

“They worked really hard and continuously. They just didn’t give up,” Cathy Kearns said. 

Alan Kearns was drafted into the United States Army to fight in Vietnam when he was just 20 years old, and served there for one year.

Although he admitted that his wife will see more benefits from the renovated kitchen, Kearns also said it was a rather nice gesture.

He was awarded a Purple Heart for his service, but prefers not to speak at length about his time spent at war.

Cathy said it’s nice to see her husband receiving positive recognition and community support.

“He didn’t get that kind of reception when he came home from Vietnam,” Cathy Kearns said. “There was so much negative news all time, and so when he came home, he was not welcomed for his service. He was welcomed by the people that loved him, but the rest of the world was not very nice.”

Corinne Gilbert and Amy Parker, of Gilbert’s, played important roles in the creation and facilitation of the contest.

“Amy had the vision before she even came to work with us, and we went from there, so she’s definitely the brainchild of everything,” Gilbert said. “(Veterans) are very near and dear to our heart.”

Gilbert's has a history of providing employment opportunities for veterans, and Gilbert said she felt having this event is a logical step forward.

In the future, Gilbert said she would like to make the veteran room repair contest an annual event, with even more local submissions.