Elderly vets create jobs in North Carolina one T-shirt at a time

A group of veterans in North Carolina who refuse to “take up space until they die” are proving once again they’re part of the Greatest Generation by saving local jobs one T-shirt at a time.

It started when Fred Hunneke, an 85-year-old Marine veteran who owned and operated textile mills in Kinston, and two other fellow veterans decided they wanted to help local businesses that were fighting to stay afloat. They found a way to of just that, even as they helped a new generation of service members returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

“The three of us were cruising around Kingston and solving the world’s problems, which people who are over 80 do,” Hunneke told FoxNews.com. “I looked at the other guys and said, ‘How can we create some jobs?’”


The three vets soon became eight and a moniker was born: “The Eight Eighties,” a nonprofit group of veterans with combat history in all parts of the world — including a 94-year-old pilot who still flies and a paratrooper. The men were determined to make an impact on their local economy with the C-Shirt, a $20 T-shirt made of a patented microbial material that keeps the wearer cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Most importantly, the shirt is made and produced in the Tar Heel state.

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“And off we went,” Hunneke said. “What you had here was eight old men who thought God hadn’t left us here to take up space until we die.”

The formula, Hunneke said, was simple. Using his connections in the textile industry, the group called on local firms who were struggling to stay afloat as many textile outfits in the region were shipping production overseas. In short, the more shirts sold by the group meant more production work for local firms, which led to additional jobs.

To date, “thousands” of the shirts have been sold, Hunneke said. And the line has been expanded to include a $25 nightshirt and $30 golf shirts.

“The more business we bring, the more they can employ,” Hunneke said of local firms like Vanceboro Apparel in Vanceboro. “To the guy who got the job who wouldn’t have otherwise, he thinks it’s a pretty good deal.”

Shirley Williams, who owns Vanceboro Apparel, said her work with Hunneke and the Eight Eighties has allowed her small, four-employee company to stay afloat amid economic uncertainty.

“It helps keep jobs at the present,” she told FoxNews.com. “A lot of time if I’m running low on work, I’ll call Mr. Hunneke and he’ll place an order. And every time we sell one, he donates one.”

Like Hunneke, Williams, 59, said she takes pride in producing her wares locally.

“That’s one of the things that we take pride in,” she said. “We need to continue manufacturing in the U.S.A. so the money can stay in the U.S.A. We don’t want to become a service provider country.”

One of the group’s original members, Chester Stocks, died last year at age 83, but that hasn’t lessened the veterans’ resolve in staying true to the “Made in America” mantra.

“It is important to all of us,” Hunneke said. “I don’t create jobs by sending work to China or Guam.”

Click here to find an Eight Eighties dealer.