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Community stepping up for disabled Yorkville veteran

Needing get food table Patty Ziegler her husbShawn get help from Nancy (left) volunteer Kendall County Food Pantry Thursday January

Needing to get food on the table Patty Ziegler and her husband Shawn get help from Nancy (left), a volunteer at the Kendall County Food Pantry on Thursday, January 31, 2013. Shawn Ziegler was injured in Iraq in 2006, but is not getting his benefits and having trouble receiving the disability pay the Veterans Administration says he should get. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: March 14, 2013 6:13AM

The doorbell rang around dinner time. And when former Army Sgt. Shawn Ziegler went to answer it, he saw a man in blue jeans with graying hair standing on his front porch.

“Are you Shawn Ziegler,” the stranger asked.

“Yes, sir, I am,” replied the Yorkville man, who had served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I read the newspaper article about you,” the visitor responded. “My name is Phil.”

He handed Ziegler a bank envelope. “Semper fi,” he said, uttering the motto of the United States Marines that is Latin for “always loyal.”

Then he turned and walked away.

A surprised Ziegler went into the kitchen — bare except for the groceries he and wife Patty had picked up recently at the Kendall County Food pantry — and opened the envelope.

He looked at the contents in shock. It was filled with $50 bills.

He counted the money. When he told Patty the amount totaled $1,000, she began to cry.

Ziegler became emotional, too. For a man used to providing for his family and defending his country, accepting charity is not easy. Touched by the kindness of strangers, he went into the bedroom and sat on his bed.

Only then, did he allows the tears to fall.


Shawn Ziegler’s plight, described on these pages last week, may not be uncommon. But it is unacceptable. Ziegler was forced from active duty by the United States Army — because of an ongoing elbow injury sustained his first tour in Iraq — a few months shy of the 20 years he needed to be eligible for a pension and insurance benefits. And, while the VA gave him 80 percent disability, the Army put that number at 20 percent — 10 percent shy of what he needed for full benefits. Already struggling as a carpenter in this rough economy, Ziegler became more desperate after his wife lost her retail job recently. And it didn’t help the backlogged VA owed him $2,000 in benefit payments.

By the time I heard about the family, they were dealing with overdue mortgage and utility bills, an empty pantry and both cars in need of repairs. But the generous and anonymous (Marine?) Phil was not the only one who responded to the story. Other people reached out. A few sent checks; some supplied food. And the wife of a Vietnam veteran called about the possibility of part-time work for Shawn, which would mean a regular paycheck this family needs so badly.

One outraged reader even sent letters and copies of the story to President Obama, as well as our state senators and representatives.

In other good news, Patty has had three interviews — no job offer as of publication — with a local grocery chain for a part-time position. And Ziegler also heard from the VA: A meeting has been set up later this month to review his case, and he’s hopeful it’s not more of the runaround he’s gotten in the past.

I’d love to print all the names of the people who responded so generously to this story ... but I know publicity is not what they are seeking. On this, Ash Wednesday, when the church tells us this is not only a season of giving up, but giving back, I can’t help but think how appropriate it is to write about the angels among us.

“We are not used to being on this end,” said Patty Ziegler of the generosity that’s been extended to her family. “But I told Shawn there is a lesson in all of this ... not just for us, but for others, too.”

Shawn Ziegler plans to write thank you notes where possible. Some of the letters had return addresses. But Phil?

“It was clear he did not want us to know who he was,” said Shawn.

Ahh, but we already do.

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