Mallory and Charles Hammond talk five years of Honor Flights, VA visits and more

In 2012, Mallory Hammond began volunteering for the Honor Flight Network, a nonprofit organization which transports veterans to Washington, D.C. to visit memorials. Motivated to serve — her great uncle was a World War II veteran — and interested in retro fashion, she styled her hair into “victory rolls” and wore a red flower to welcome a group of veterans exiting their flight.

“I was the first person they saw when they got off the plane, which was really exciting,” Mallory said in an early November interview with her husband, Charles, a former corporal in the U.S. Marine Corps. “The first veteran … twirled me around and danced me all the way out. … And then the next veteran that came out looked at me and he started crying, and he put his head on my shoulder.”

Mallory said her father inspired her to recruit more volunteers, and two weeks later, there were 10 women in 1940s clothing waiting to greet a new group of veterans. “The first thing all of them say is, ‘I feel 18 again. I feel 20 again,'” she said. “It gives them that nostalgia … and they light up.”

“We've never missed an Honor Flight [since],” she said.

Mallory and Charles created the Patriot Pinup nonprofit organization in 2012 to celebrate and serve veterans not only through the Honor Flights, but also by visiting Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers. They often bring treats along to the VA visits and send care packages to active troops, and they also participate in myriad other fundraisers and events, like the forthcoming Veterans Day Parade in Hilliard, on Saturday, Nov. 11.

“The pinup idea is a means for us to get out in the public and make people smile … but it's not exactly what we're all about. It's not just girls in dresses and big hair,” Charles said.

“People go, ‘I want to dress up,'” Mallory said. “Well, a lot of what we do is repair plumbing, chopping wood [and] stopping by people's houses.”

Making sure volunteers understand the commitment involved is the reason Patriot Pinup is taking its time adding new chapters, said Mallory, who also mentioned each volunteer will undergo post-traumatic stress disorder training in the near future to better help veterans. The organization boasts about 100 volunteers — a fourth of whom are veterans — across chapters in Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati and as far away as Oregon, but interest is still growing nationwide.

“We make sure that the people we bring in are here for the best reason,” Mallory said.

Meeting veterans has enriched the Hammonds' lives, and they emotionally recalled a few standout experiences, like preparing a Thanksgiving meal for the late Jeanette Waldon, a local Navy veteran who was robbed on Veterans Day in 2014.

“It's really unreal the stories that would be missed if people don't take the time and just ask,” Mallory said. She's working on a periodical to record the veterans' experiences.

Patriot Pinup interacts with younger, current military personnel by putting together care packages with “little bits of home,” like local newspapers or pennants representing their home sports teams. But they also include silly items like fake moustaches, water guns and foam swords to encourage the young soldiers to have fun during the challenging days of their assignments.

“I'm sure their platoon leaders do not like us,” Mallory joked.

Whether one wants to give back on Veterans Day or any other time of the year, there are several simple ways to do so. The Hammonds suggested visiting the VA or helping out in the kitchen of a local branch of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States (VFW).

“A lot of people … [will] pay for someone's dinner secretly, and that's great, but sometimes it's kinda like, ‘I'd rather just talk to somebody,'” Charles said. Both he and Mallory have noticed the impact they have on veterans by the simple act of having coffee with them.

“I have gotten the biggest response [from] just reaching out to a veteran and [saying], ‘Hey, I remember,'” Mallory said.