NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Everlene Brewer didn’t know the sailor and never expected to get to know him.
The 76-year-old polio survivor explained that she had read in her hometown newspaper about a Navy officer deployed on the aircraft carrier George Washington. She thought he might like to receive a letter.
“I just told him a little about myself and my husband and thanked him for his service,” said Brewer, whose husband served in the Army.
Seventeen years later, the two are still friends. And Brewer is still writing.
It’s unclear exactly how many letters Brewer has written to U.S. servicemen and women deployed overseas. She picked up the pace in 1999, though, after her husband died and she moved into an assisted living facility. She claims to have sent 5,000 or more letters each year.
Brewer’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. In 2012, the USO of Hampton Roads and Central Virginia recognized her with a Patriot Award. And now, Michael Russo — the recipient of that first letter — has written a book about her life.
“I was just inspired by her,” said Russo, 52, a retired lieutenant commander in the Navy who wrote “Everlene’s Sky” over the past seven years with Brewer’s help. The first-time author describes it as a “fact-based novel.”
“It’s not my book. I just wrote it,” Russo said.
Brewer didn’t live an easy life. The devout Christian grew up in Hurt, a small town south of Lynchburg. Her parents were tobacco farmers, she said. They lived in a house that had no electricity or running water.
After contracting polio at 7, she couldn’t walk without braces and crutches.
Brewer, a typist by trade, never thought she’d marry. Then, in 1959, she and a friend met two soldiers walking in Altavista. She hit it off with one of them — Charles Richard Brewer — and the two were engaged eight days later.
“When I saw his eyes, that was it,” Brewer said.
Brewer credited her husband with spurring her to write so many letters. Before he died, he told her how much he looked forward to receiving letters from home.
“He said mail call can make or break your day,” Brewer recalled. “If you didn’t get anything, you walked away real sad.”
Most of the letters Brewer writes are Christmas cards. She said she and some friends at Autumn Care of Norfolk start in July and keep writing through December, usually using donated cards.
Brewer gives most of the cards to organizations that send them on to service members overseas. Some, however, are provided to wounded soldiers at stateside hospitals.
Brewer said she never expects anyone to respond. But she’s always happy when they do.
“It’s so nice that they took the time,” Brewer said.
She has no plans to stop writing. It’s getting harder, she said, but she finds it rewarding to know she has in some small way made someone’s day a little brighter.
“People have been so nice to me. They’ve done for me and done for me and done for me,” she said. “I like to give back.”
Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com
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