America Supports You: 1.4 Millionth Letter Takes On Special Meaning
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Nov. 8, 2005 After receiving the 1.4 millionth thank-you letter for servicemembers and veterans in her "A Million Thanks" campaign, a California teenager realized there was something special about that number.
Retired Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, the 15th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, poses with Shauna Fleming, 16, on Nov. 4, after she presented him the 1.4 millionth letter she received in her "A Million Thanks" letter-writing campaign for the troops. Photo by Nate Wisely
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Since 1.4 million people serve on active duty in the armed forces, Shauna Fleming, 16, decided that the letter symbolizes every active duty servicemember receiving a thank-you letter from a grateful American. A 10-year-old student in Dallas wrote the 1.4 millionth letter.
Fleming presented Myers with the 1.4 millionth letter during a special assembly for the 1,400 students of Orange (Calif.) Lutheran High School on Nov. 4.
Servicemembers who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan, past war veterans, including a Pearl Harbor survivor, and various local, state and federal officials attended.
Fleming said after exceeding her goal of collecting a million thank-you letters and e-mails, she planned to continue collecting them, but not with any special goal. But Myers changed her mind, she said.
She approached Lutheran principal Gregg Pinick with the idea of using the 1 million letterwriting campaign as a school service project, and he thought it was a good idea. Pinick arranged for her to use the school's address for the letters and designated a room in the school to store them.
But before long, the room started overflowing. "We added weekends to sorting parties, where we would have up to 100 students processing the mail all day," Fleming noted.
It took about seven months to reach the million-letter mark, she recalled. She presented the millionth letter to President Bush in a 15-minute ceremony in the Oval Office on Nov. 17, 2004.
While she was in Washington, the Defense Department invited Fleming to be part of "America Supports You," a DoD program designed to spotlight and give "voice and visibility" to Americans' efforts supporting the nation's armed forces. She participated in the news conference that launched the program on Nov. 19, 2004.
Fleming has also written a book titled, "A Million Thanks, My Journey to Send 1,000,000 Thank You Letters to Our Troops."
"Most of the proceeds of the book go to support A Million Thanks and our huge postage costs," she noted.
Shauna isn't the only member of her family who works to support the troops. Her father, Mike Fleming, founded an annual campaign called "Valentines for Troops," and has distributed more than a 1.5 million Valentines to U.S. troops the past two years.
Shauna travels the country speaking to troops. One such trip took her to Fort Hood, Texas, to welcome home a couple of soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division who received thank-you letters while in Iraq. "I found that their families couldn't be there," she said, "so my mom, grandmother and grandfather went to be their 'family' when they arrived."
The teenager said she tries to convey a special of support message to the troops she meets. "You are the heroes," she said she tells servicemembers. "Americans do appreciate and support you more than you know. The media doesn't tell the whole story sometimes, that Americans as a nation, do support our troops, even if some of them don't support the war effort."
She's become friends with actor Gary Sinise, who is involved in numerous activities to support both servicemembers and Iraqi children. They're working with some Hollywood producers, Shauna said, to hold a benefit concert next year for wounded servicemembers and their families.