Less than 1% of Americans serve in the Armed Forces, which means many people don’t have personal experience with a friend or family member who has served. While most Americans extend appreciation when they learn that someone is serving or has served, few ask questions about that service. As a result, when our military members retire to civilian life, they lose the opportunity to connect with people about their experiences and we lose the opportunity to get a glimpse into military service.
One local retired Army officer has discovered a unique mission to honor those who have served our country, and he hopes it will preserve their stories and bridge the gap with all Americans.
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Roy Adams, who served for 20 years including two tours of duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq, was raised by his father, an Army officer, who believed that all Americans should serve their country. Adams served his country and intended to live this motto out in retirement.
“I was born into a strong military family background that has served generationally,” Adams says. “Both sides of my parents’ family have a family member that has served in every conflict our nation has been involved with, dating back to the Revolutionary War.” Military life is all Adams has ever known, so finding a way to continue his passion for serving the country was crucial to his retirement plans.
The path to finding his calling after active duty would take him through a stint as a private school headmaster where his son attended. Adams knew it was not his calling, but the school needed someone so he put his military training, leadership and management skills to work and served the school for four years.
Then Adams and his family embarked on an 18-month RV tour to see the country, to give him time to think about what he wanted to do next and where he wanted to live. He discovered that he had an interest in furniture making, and found a six-month, intensive course in the state of Washington. At the conclusion of the course Adams, along with his wife, Amy, and son, decided to settle down in Westfield to start his furniture-making business, Adams Custom Woodworking.
He began posting on social media about his new woodworking business, and customers were not the only ones to take notice. “My retired commander called one evening and told me that he had noticed what I was up to, and he asked me if I would make him a custom rocker like the ones we sat in every evening after combat at our living quarters in Iraq,” Adams says.
“Each night, despite the long, stressful days of operations, the battalion leadership team would gather outside our [container housing units] to process the events of the day,” he continues. “They found great comfort in the handcrafted rocking chairs made by local contractors. Despite the chaotic circumstances they often endured, the chairs served as a comforting way to decompress and talk about the day. Eventually we would end up talking about our lives and loved ones. These were good memories.”
That is when he had a profound realization, and wondered what would happen to their stories after they are gone. That was the moment Adams knew he had found a way to continue serving the country. The power of those stories shared while sitting in chairs brought it full-circle.“I could honor veterans through preserving handcrafted, heirloom-quality chairs that would be uniquely tied to their stories for generations to come,” he says.
Adams got right to work and established Chairs of Honor, which became a 501(c)(3) charitable organization in January of 2022. Adams has two veterans making chairs now, in Kentucky and Colorado. His intention is to establish a network of makers in every state to impact more veterans, which in turn will help more Americans get to know the veterans living in their communities. While it is a charitable organization, Adams intends to run it like a business. He formed an advisory board and quickly mobilized.
His first chair was naturally for his commander, who inspired this mission. He delivered the chair personally and recorded his story, returning with a clear sense of purpose.
“I have learned a lot about the making of these custom chairs,” Adams says. “The craftsmanship and attention to detail is fitting of military duty, which relies on careful attention to detail. Knowing that we are preserving the craft of chair making, which dates back to the 17th century, is also very gratifying. Hand-carving a chair can take anywhere from 60 to 80 hours to complete and each chair is self-funded, so the need for donations is great.”
The Chairs of Honor process matches a furniture maker to a veteran, to create a unique chair and provide a storytelling experience to preserve that veteran’s individual story of service and sacrifice.
Adams says the challenge is for veterans to accept that being nominated through Chairs of Honor is meant as a way for veterans to preserve their stories, which he hopes will bridge the gap in the public’s perception of military service and inspire more Americans to serve their country. Adams believes that if we can encourage more men and women to listen to veterans about their service, experiences and stories, we will rely less on the images we see and more on the faces and voices of the stories we hear.
To learn how you can support Chairs of Honor, go to chairsofhonor.com, and follow Chairs of Honor on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, where Adams will document the entire process of the next nominated veteran.
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