It was a gentle knock that drew 87-year-old Valerie Howard to the door of her ground-floor apartment in Independence. Not expecting any visitors on that warm September day some three weeks ago, Valerie – who says “everyone calls me Val” – didn’t know who was in the corridor rapping on her door. It wasn’t until she opened the door, and a young man thrust a hundred-dollar bill into her hand that Val knew the good Samaritan was none other than Martin DeFloor, a Marine Corps veteran she had befriended two years ago just before his deployment to Afghanistan. Sitting in her apartment, which was in disarray because she was in the process of moving into Heritage House, Val says she didn’t look, at first, at the man standing at the door. “The first thing I saw was that money,” she says softly. “But after I took the money, I looked to see who gave it to me, and it was (Martin).” Not knowing why she was the recipient of Martin’s generosity, Val asks the obvious: “What is this for?” “You have been mighty good to me in the past. You fed me,” replies Martin, who once lived on the second-floor above Val. With her entire life dedicated to helping others, Val says whatever she does for others is out of love; it’s the right thing to do. “I don’t help people and then want a handout,” she tells Martin, who retorts: “You are going to take that money. ...I owe it to you.” Val says she had forgotten about Martin knocking on her door when he lived in the apartment complex and mentioning he had been without food for three days. “It’s amazing to me that he remembered (what I did for him), because I do things like that all the time and I don’t remember them.” She does remember Martin never asked for a handout. And when he said he had no food in his apartment, Val stopped what she was doing and headed for the kitchen. Telling Martin to stand still, Val began filling up a large paper sack with food, including homemade zucchini bread. Then she handed it to him while he was standing at the door. Did the out-of-work handyman thank Val for her thoughtfulness and kindness? “Oh my, yes,” she says. “He was very appreciative; he was a real gentleman.” To Val, Martin was a “good neighbor” she could depend on to assist her in those times of need. “If something went wrong with my car, I would call Martin, and he would go out there and fix it,” she says. And though he never held out his hand, “I always offered to pay (for his services), but he wouldn’t take it.” Then there were those times when Martin put on his plumber’s cap and came to Val’s rescue. All it took was a phone call. And presto, he was there to fix the problem. Martin, though, was much more than a good neighbor and trusty handyman to Val. “I think this man was an angel,” she says. ...“He helped me as I helped him, and I believe that the Lord sent him. I do believe that. I feel the Lord put it in (Martin’s) heart to bring (me) that hundred dollars,” which Val says will help her purchase a new bed for her new apartment. As for her encounter with Martin following his return from Afghanistan, it was “short and sweet,” says Val, who was Bess Truman’s personal companion from 1977 to 1982. ...“There was (not much) conversation at all, and that disappoints me.” It wasn’t that Val didn’t try to converse with Martin. “I was standing at the door and I tried to talk to him,” she recalls. “I asked him to come in, and he said, ‘I don’t have time. I’ve got to go; I’m in a hurry.’” However, Martin did stay long enough to give Val a big hug and to tell her he was staying “here and there” and was now living in a motel. “That was all I got out of him,” says Val, who says her life’s ambition is to talk to Martin again. “I wish he would come back and see me. I’ll be at Heritage House after the first of October.” Martin also gave Val an 8-inch-by-10-inch plaque with the following inscription: “Valerie Howard, for your service to her fellowman now receives my personal gift of one-hundred dollars in thanks for saving the life of a fallen warrior. On 11/26/2011, Marine Corps veteran Martin DeFloor journeyed out many miles on foot having lived without food for three previous days. He came across the food pantry many miles away on a sunny, cold day. Slowly walking the line, the very long line, peering into the eyes of each and everyone, Sergeant DeFloor felt the warmth of morning sun rising near noon. Praise God, for I know I can make it another day for I have seen the true glory of my God. All I need is this here water and this here fire. As long as I have those, I can run for miles more. Very shortly after returning to his apartment on Noland Road, there was a knock at the door. None other than Valerie Howard. In her hands a couple of beef stews, for she had too much. She will never know how good that felt to know I could have made it, but now not be able to sup bread for my God is always keeping his guards sharp. Thank you for the gift of life.”
Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.