PHOTO CAPTION (counterclockwise from left): Sam Gorton in Marine boot camp in 1959; Gorton playing his guitar in a country music band in years past; and Gorton's Battle Creek home with a new roof thanks to a veteran-specific grant.
The roof over Sam Gorton's head was a leaky, rotting mess this past winter. But Gorton, a 78-year-old Marine veteran who lives alone, didn't have the money to fix it. Already in debt from replacing the windows and furnace in his modest Battle Creek home, he decided to call Calhoun County Veterans Affairs.
Gorton was set up with a mentor from the Michigan Veterans Affairs Agency's Buddy to Buddy Volunteer Mentorship Program to find a solution. Within a few months, he not only had a new metal roof over his house and garage - thanks to a veteran-specific grant - but he had formed a lasting friendship with his mentor, fellow veteran Mike Wilson.
"Mike got the ball rolling and got the grant," says Gorton. "He was working wonders beyond my expectations."
Gorton also has a history of supporting his fellow veterans. When the Twin Towers fell in New York on 9/11, he says he called to see if he could reenlist in the Marines. "They appreciated the thought," he says. "I was probably in my 50s, but I would have gone back."
Gorton, a lifelong musician who once toured the country playing country music, also volunteers to play Taps during veterans' funerals at Fort Custer National Cemetery near Battle Creek.
"During the pandemic, I still went and played," Gorton says. "I felt like it's my duty."
The Buddy to Buddy Program that brought Gorton and Wilson together was established in mid-2020 from a former University of Michigan program of a similar name. Through the initiative, volunteer veteran mentors called "Buddies" are on call throughout Michigan to support veterans' needs and to link them to benefits and resources.
As a veteran advocate, Wilson is also knowledgeable about available resources and was able to connect Gorton with a resource to get his roof replaced. Specifically, Gorton secured a Veteran Support Grant through the National Guard Association of Michigan (NGAM).
The NGAM grant provides financial assistance to Michigan men and women of military service and their families during a critical time of need. It's just one of the many resources available to veterans and their families in Michigan; veterans interested in learning more about the benefits and resources they earned for their service can call 1-800-MICH-VET.
The Buddy to Buddy Program, in addition to connecting veterans to resources, can also provide camaraderie. In the case of Gorton and Wilson, they bonded over their shared Christian faith, family values and love of music.
"Sam is a very grateful man," says Wilson, a retired command sergeant major from the Michigan National Guard. "He's been a musician for much of his life, and we get along so well because of it."
Gorton spent four years in the active duty Marines (1959-63) and two years in the Marine Reserves. A non-combat veteran, he served as a wireman - stringing telephone line from command posts to outposts - and also spent time in the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps.
Today, Gorton has two grown children and five grandchildren, but none of his family lives nearby. He calls his relationship with Wilson a "blessing."
"Mike was just wonderful and became a real buddy to me," Gorton says. "He's just a great human being."