America Supports You: Group Lends Heroes a Helping Hand
By Terri Lukach
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, June 22, 2005 "Operation Purple Hearts" is not about the well-known medal awarded to those wounded in war, but about honoring heroes by helping them and their families overcome difficulties associated with military service.
"Our No. 1 goal is to boost the morale of our deployed fighting forces, as well as those stateside, and to help the families left behind by providing a number of services," Executive Director Mary Hendrick-Klemm said.
The organization, run by a handful of volunteers, responds to requests from servicemembers or families in need and works to see those requests fulfilled.
"If a returning vet needs a wheelchair, we'll find him one. If he needs a ramp to gain access to his house, we'll get it built," Hendrick-Klemm said.
The same is true for the families of deployed servicemembers, she said. "If a wife with a husband in Afghanistan finds that her washing machine has broken down, we'll go online in her area and find someone to help. Or, if we can't, our job is to fill that hole," she said.
"There are no set guidelines for the kinds of things we will do," Hendrick-Klemm said. "Last year, we provided Christmas presents for one family, clothes for another, and for still another a check for food. In another case, a local (Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter) adopted a family and helped them pay basic essentials like the light bill."
"Most Americans want to help our servicemen and women. They just don't know how," Hendrick-Klemm said. "Our job is to link them together."
Operation Purple Hearts also promotes longer-term connections between Americans and servicemembers. The group's letter-writing campaign connects those committed to writing a letter every week with service personnel in need of a friendly voice from home.
The organization's "adopt-a-soldier" program pairs up citizens with soldiers through care packages that contain items like packaged foods, toiletries, stationery, a phone card, a magazine, and a personalized greeting from the sender. For an extra $10, the sender can include a paperback book; for an extra $20, a CD or DVD.
In the same way, Americans can also "adopt" a family or a veteran. Givers with no program in mind can make a donation online to provide future services for the military and their families as needs arise.
It's not only those fighting the global war on terror who benefit. The organization supplies the same services to military veterans of all the nation's wars and helps current vets recuperating at military hospitals in Washington and Germany.
Operation Purple Hearts, an organization dedicated to helping so many lives, began when one young life ended -- that of Mary Hendrick-Klemm's daughter, Danni.
Danni was a fan of the military and help send care packages to those serving in Operation Desert Storm. She died in 2001 at age 13 as the result of an adverse reaction to a drug, which put her into a coma. Yet, even in dying she was giving. Danni was an organ and tissue donor.
After Danni died, "Someone told me, stop asking why it happened and ask God what you need to do with it," Mary said.
"Once I did that," Mary said, "things started changing. I couldn't go back, but I could go forward. I could honor Danni's life by living mine and loving the people around me again.
"As I read about children losing military parents and parents losing children to military service," she said, "the more apparent it became that there is a huge need. I felt this could be a tribute to my own child."