Tucson man’s patriotic decorations honor late father | Local news

Tucson man’s patriotic decorations honor late father | Local news

There was a time in Freddy Alvarez’s life, right after his divorce in 2013, that he needed to get back on track and really needed “to keep my mind off of things.”

So, Alvarez literally went digging into his past and figuratively discovered a pot of gold that would change his life.

The gold came in the form of sheet metal patterns and half-inch metal conduit pipe for the tubes that his father would transform into wind chimes.

His father, Fernando O. Alvarez, was a World War II veteran who fought with the U.S. Army in the Philippines, then later became a union sheet metal installer and fabricator.

“My dad started making them in the mid ‘70s as a hobby and to make some extra cash,” Freddy Alvarez, 63, said with a grin.

“My dad loved being a vet. He loved his country, and he loved the flag.”

But Alvarez was not interested in making chimes himself, so he never really got involved.

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“That was his thing,” he said, referring to his father.

At the time, Freddy’s thing was playing his trumpet for Los Changuitos Feos, the famous mariachi group that originated in Tucson.

But that’s another story for another time.

When his father stopped making the chimes in the 1990s because of health reasons, he stored his sheet metal patterns in a milk crate, open to the elements, until he died in 2005 at 79.

In the elements they remained, first at his father’s house, then at Alvarez’s house until 2013, after his divorce.

“I had to fill up my time to keep my mind off things.”

He found himself drawn to his father’s old milk crate.

Alvarez dusted off the once-familiar metal, thinking, “I found this pot of gold, made from my dad’s hands.”

With his father in mind, Alvarez decided to make some chimes, picking up where his dad left off. Only this time, he would make some modifications to make them his way.

The hangers, on the right, are made without the top or tubing. The metal at the bottom is supposed to resemble a military dog tag.

His life changed again when his friend, Miguel Salazar, a 20-year Army veteran, saw his wind chime and offered to pay Alvarez to make him one.

The wind chime he saw was painted red, white and blue and Alvarez had dedicated it to his dad in service to his country.

“Dude, I can’t sell it to you!” was Alvarez’s reply. “You’re a vet. I’ll make you one!”

Then he thought, “If I give him one … I have to make one for all my friends who have served.”

In 2015, Alvarez, who is not a veteran, started making chimes for veterans and for the families of veterans, eventually giving away as many as 50 them.

But because the chimes are handmade, he was having trouble keeping up with the demand.

By 2016, he needed a new plan. He created what he calls veteran hangers — a single strand of recycled carbon dioxide cartridges painted red, white and blue. A piece of sheet metal resembling a military dog tag hangs at the bottom.

The hangers are easier and quicker to make.

Since 2016, he estimates he has handed out some 1,200 hangers to veterans, including many he has randomly encountered.

Alvarez, who also plays “Taps” with his trumpet on request over the gravesites of deceased veterans, admits he doesn’t keep an accurate count of the number of hangers he has made.

“I concentrate more on giving them away,” he said.

Freddy Alvarez, right, shows his grandson, Mario Fernando Alvarez, how to string patriotic wind chimes and hangers together that he made from sheet metal parts and carbon dioxide cartridges. On many occasions, Alvarez and his grandson give the hangers away to veterans they meet around town.

He has left hangers at the Veterans Administration, including for those getting treatment there who live far from home.

“Most of the time, I usually approach a person in stores, restaurants, places like that, who may be a vet based on if they have a veteran’s license plate or are wearing a certain shirt or a ball cap.”

He often takes his grandson, 11-year-old Mario, a fifth grader at Manzo Elementary, to help him give out hangers.

“I enjoy being around my tata,” Mario said of his grandfather. “I am impressed with what it takes to make the hangers and the things he does to get things done.”

Throughout the time Alvarez has been working on the chimes and later the hangers, he has kept one thing in mind.

“I remember my dad telling me that I should always acknowledge a vet and shake their hand, and if they have a story to tell, take the time to listen.”

Maybe a similar gesture can lead someone to find their pot of gold.