Who We Are – Honoring Heroes One Bead at a Time

Vietnam Veteran’s handiwork has brought smiles over the decades
Senior man posing for picture
25
May '21

Memorial Day is a time to honor those who died in the service of the United States. For Paul DeAngelo, a Vietnam veteran, the memories come hard but they are eased by sharing strings of beads which decorate nametags and keychains of veterans, active military, and medical workers.

“I’ve had such a tremendous response,” he said. “Everybody is so happy.”

Black and white photo of soldiers during Vietnam War

He estimates that since 1967 he has passed out a 1,000 beads to those who have served in the military. Hundreds more have been given to medical workers, which he started doing when his wife was sick. Today, he makes the items for associates of The Village at Willow Crossings, where he lives. He has never charged for his work. 

“He’s pretty much made them for most of the community,” explained Balmary “Belle” Rainville, a front desk receptionist at the community. She said she came back from a few days off to find beads in her mailbox. “It was the sweetest surprise.”

At first glance, the beads are simple. On about a three-inch piece of wire, there are usually beads with letters spelling out the branch of military service or the person’s name. Expect to see red, white, and blue, and sometimes emblems like an American or Vietnamese flag. At one end, is a key ring and on the other, an angel wing.

“He wants to ensure that we all have ‘an angel on our shoulder looking over us,’” Anne DeMinico, Executive Director of Willow Crossings, said. “I cannot even count the number of keychains that he has made thus far.”  

Sharing the joy
Anne said the community is partnering with BeadCache in Mansfield, the retailer that provides Paul his supplies, to purchase beads for him. The store is providing a discount.  

Paul may also be getting some help in his mission to spread happiness bead by bead.

“We have asked Paul to lead an activity for our residents to share his craft that he is so passionate about,” Anne said. Paul is all for it.

“Whoever wants to learn, I’m more than happy to teach them how to do it,” he said.

Keychains with beads

Painful memories and tough times
Paul wasn’t always as happy and positive as he is today. When he returned home from Vietnam in 1966, he felt hated by people complete strangers - even spit on by them. Confused and angry, he turned to drinking and became argumentative. 

His marriage had also started to suffer.

“I didn’t like myself,” he admitted, and somehow discovered the act of stringing beads on a wire could not only bring some relief but could also spread happiness.

More recently, his wife became very ill and there were long hours in hospitals and other facilities. The beads helped again, and he made more people smile.

“I just keep making them,” Paul said. “I see how happy they are – and know how happy it makes me.”

His son, Paul Jr., works in health care. He has seen his father’s handiwork in hospitals in Boston and around the region.

“I’ll come across a nurse and she’ll have beads on her badge,” he recalls. When he talks to them, they sometimes remember his mother, who passed away in November, but always his father -- and his beads.

After Paul’s wife passed, it was time for another transition. 

“He’s so personable,” Paul Jr. said, “I didn’t want him to be alone.”

After looking at other places, they got a “good feel” from Willow Crossings. 

“They’re wonderful, wonderful people,” Paul said. “They treat you like you’re part of the family.”

According to the executive director, the staff agree.

“Paul is just such a kind, caring and generous soul,” Anne said. “We are so blessed to have him as a member of our community.”

Resident working in apartment
The Village at Willow Crossings