Wisconsin Korean War veteran who received 3,400 cards from strangers for his 91st birthday has died
KEWAUNEE – Ed Engle, a Korean War veteran who received more than 3,000 cards from strangers all over the country for his final birthday, has died from Alzheimer's.
Engle was designated for hospice care last summer because of the progression of the disease and moved by his daughter and son-in-law into a Kewaunee house to live out his final days. Doctors told the family Engle's 91st birthday, which was Aug. 23, likely would be his last.
Engle's granddaughter, Sheena Philbee, knew he enjoyed getting and reading greeting cards, so she contacted the Kewaunee County Star-News through Facebook to ask anyone interested to send him a birthday card, whether or not they knew him.
The Star-News published a story about the request on its website Aug. 16. Cards started arriving within days — first a few, then a lot, then a deluge, with 1,069 pieces arriving in the mail one day.
All told, Philbee said Engle received more than 3,400 birthday cards from well-wishers from ages 4 to 98 across the country, including fellow Korean War vets, their relatives and other veterans, including an email from a retired brigadier general. Cards also arrived from Sweden and Scotland.
Philbee told the Star-News for a previous story they were expecting maybe 25 to 50 cards.
"Overwhelmed, very, very surprised," Philbee said in August about the response. "When (Engle) saw them laying on his bed, he said, 'Oh my god, all for me?' Sometimes when we're reading them, he wipes his eyes. I ask him what's going on and he says he's just wiping his eyes (chuckles). I think he's overjoyed all this is happening to him … This brings his spirits back up."
Plus, the mail included letters written to Engle and gifts such as military memorabilia, a Quilt of Valor from the Kewaunee Artisan Center and blanket from the Appleton Police Department, and even food and snacks.
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Going through the cards and other items was a family affair, with Engle's relatives, including great-grandchildren, reading the cards and letters to him. They were able to read as many as 100 a day.
The mail didn't stop coming after Engle's birthday. Philbee said people sent Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas cards to him, with regular letters coming about four times a month from a man in Florida and twice a month from a woman in Shawano.
Philbee said Engle received about 3,800 total pieces of mail since her request was made public. They were able to read every one before he died. The family plans to keep everything and pass it down to future generations so they can remember Engle and his service to the country.
Philbee said the end came peacefully at about 4 a.m. Jan. 31, with country music superstar Alan Jackson's version of the hymn "I'll Fly Away" playing in the background. His remains are being cremated and will be placed next to his late wife's in a cemetery in Illinois.
"It's been very hard because when you take care of someone 24/7 it's hard to let go," Philbee said Monday. "He lived a long, great life … He made such an impact and he was such a proud Korean veteran.
"He really, really enjoyed (the cards)."
Contact Christopher Clough at 920-741-7952, 920-562-8900 or [email protected]
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Wisconsin Korean War veteran who received 3,400 cards from strangers for his 91st birthday has died