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Messages from the Home Front

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2002 – A Vietnam vet in Alabama. A single Mom in Alaska. A World War II veteran in Big Fork, Montana. A fifth-grader in Minnesota. A chaplain in Tennessee.

These folks are proud of the nation's armed forces and they're not afraid to say so. Like thousands of Americans, they've sent holiday messages to U.S. service members overseas.

Since 1967, when Sgt. Billy Thompson wrote Abigail Van Buren and mentioned that a wonderful Christmas present to U.S. armed forces would be "just a letter from home," American citizens have been sending holiday wishes to servicemen and women stationed overseas every holiday season. Dubbed "Operation Dear Abby," the program has brought holiday greetings to hundreds of thousands of U.S. service members.

Military officials suspended this year's letter writing campaign due to the threat of anthrax being delivered by mail. The Navy's LifeLines2000 Services Network, however, offered to provide an online resource so the public could send holiday greetings to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines or Coast Guardsmen. To send an e-mail message, or to read others' messages, go to http://anyservicemember.navy.milnav4/.

U.S. troops are currently serving at duty stations around the globe. They're combating terrorism in Southwest Asia, providing a secure environment in Bosnia and Kosovo, and patrolling the border between North and South Korea. These soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines are maintaining freedom far from America's shores, and people back home are grateful. Just as they have for more than 30 years, they're letting the troops know, and this year, they're doing it by email.

"Stay low. Cover your buddy. Leave no one behind in the field and you will always win respect and support," advised Vietnam vet Larry Castagneto of Enterprise, Ala. "Keep up the good work. We're very proud of you. My heart is with you," he wrote.

"Please know that there are MILLIONS of Americans and supporters around the world," wrote Allison R. Turner, of Birmingham, Ala. The single Mom and Army brat wrote: "I ask each of you to keep the faith and fight the good fight - as my dad would say. Do what you've been trained to do and do it well."

Mothers, grandmothers, wives and schoolgirls -- make up the majority of those who've written to date. Some offered advice. Others expressed gratitude and pride. Aunt Beannie from Richmond, Ohio, wanted to let her nephew Shell Hollen know she can't wait for his return.

"My 11-year old son doesn't have a father in his life," wrote Diane Prince, "but he has been watching the news reports and is therefore learning about honor, commitment, sacrifice, and service to God and Country by watching all of you who have chosen to be in the armed services. Thank you and God Bless!!"

Jennifer Malave of Alexandria, Va., said her Dad served in the Navy for 32 years. "If any of you have children at home who you know are missing you," wrote "just know that when they grow up they will be proud of the fact that their mommy or daddy set such a good example by fighting for what we all appreciate - our freedom to live in AMERICA!!!"

Some writers offered personal e-mail addresses, volunteering to be pen pals. "We are all here for you in your time of loneliness and uncertainty to offer encouragement and strength," wrote Tina Ingram of Birmingham, Ala. "If you need to "talk" with someone at 'home base' please don't hesitate."

"I have a son in the Navy," wrote Kathy Papp of Iowa Park, Texas. "In 2001 he was in the Persian Gulf and I missed him terribly. If you need anything you can email me and I will do my best to send what you need. You make Mom's like me PROUD!"

Every so often, fathers, grandfathers and young boys sent their messages to the troops. Often short and to the point, several encouraged troops in Afghanistan to kick butt and "don't bother takin' names."

"I was in the South Pacific in WWII and the Korean 'thang,' so I know what it's like to be away from family and friends," wrote Norm Julian of Bigfork, Montana. "This too will pass and soon you'll be back where you belong. But in the meantime we appreciate you protecting our security and safety."

"My name is Jeremiah Fettig," wrote a future military recruit from LeSueur, Minn. "I am in the 5th grade at St. Anne's school. I am happy that you are fighting for us. When I grow up I am going to be in a branch of the military. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

After expressing his pride and gratitude, Chaplain Rod Davis of J103 Radio in Chattanooga, Tenn., noted that he, too, had served his country. In Vietnam, he said, he was fighting a just cause, but with little moral support from the nation.

"That is not the case this time," Davis assured his reader. "We're behind you, my friend. You have our prayers and our respect. We are grateful for the sacrifices that you are making for us and we are deeply in your debt."

Zack Fulmer, 12, from Freedom, Pa., sent a message to the Marines. "I know you probably will get a lot of these but I hope that mine means something -- something that will stay with you now and in the future.

"I hurt for you that you must stay at sea or away from home on the holidays," Fulmer wrote. "For this reason, I give you a present. The present of thanks, the present of care, the present of love. Your friend, Zack "

Alexandria Polise, 11, from Jenison, Michigan, wrote about a present she'd received. "For Christmas I got a shirt that said 'These colors (red-white-blue) don't run, never had, never will,' and you support that!!! THANKS AGAIN, God Bless you all!!

Sarah Woods, 23, "a plain old civilian" from Anchorage, Alaska, summed up the most frequently expressed sentiments in her short message.

"I just wanted to take a moment to thank you all for being so brave," she wrote. "Thank you for working so hard to protect the USA. To me you are all heroes."

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