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Christmas for veterans

Christmas for veterans

American Legion auxiliary delivers gifts, listens to stories

December 18th, 2010 in News

Alice DeWesplore, left, talks with Claudia Goodin as they and other members of the American Legion Auxiliary pack gift bags Friday morning at Post 5. Later Friday, they distributed more than 100 packages to veterans who live in area nursing homes. The project is funded in part by the auxiliary's annual poppy sale.

Photo by Kelley McCall

Surprised looks were common at Heisinger Bluffs as residents answered their doors to find a blanket and a bag of goodies topped with an American flag handed to them.

The American Legion Auxiliary Unit 5 packed treats of pudding, crackers and candy Friday morning. Then nearly a dozen members traveled to 10 local nursing homes to deliver the gifts to 110 veterans.

The spouses of the veterans were just as grateful as the veterans to hear the auxiliary members like Mary Coleman say, "Thank you for your service" and "Merry Christmas."

The recipients would say, "I'd do it again if I could" or "That's very thoughtful" or simply "Thank you."

"Sometimes, we forget the sacrifice the families made, too," Coleman said.

The veterans came from varied backgrounds of service era and military branch.

The auxiliary volunteers met a foot soldier who survived the Battle of the Bulge, a sailor who was stationed at Pearl Harbor but was on leave when the bombing took place, and another who flew fighter planes against the Japanese.

"This is what I want to do more of - listen to their stories," Coleman said after being shown a photo of the ship a woman's husband served on in the South Pacific.

This was Coleman's first time to help with the Christmas for veterans project.

"That's our whole purpose is to support veterans," Coleman said. "Christmas means people care.

"I feel very sincere about expressing appreciation to all who served to preserve and protect our freedom."

The local auxiliary unit has been delivering these expressions of gratitude for more than seven years, said Alice DeWesplore, Veteran Affairs and Rehabilitation chairwoman. The unit also provided gifts for 14 veterans under the care of the Cole County public administrator.

"We're in the Christmas spirit and want to make sure they're remembered," DeWesplore said. "We don't want them to be forgotten on Christmas or any other time of the year."

The gifts and items are donated or paid for through the annual poppy fundraiser, said auxiliary member Claudia Goodin.

Units across the nation do similar projects for veterans as part of its purpose of "service not self," said Goodin, who is the first vice president of the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Missouri.

The auxiliary also supports gift shops in the Veterans Homes, where residents may pick up gifts for their loved ones at no cost. And gifts also are distributed to veterans at the federal veterans hospitals.

Probably more important than the tangible items is the visit itself.

"Knowing somebody took the time to see them and that personal contact is more important than what we give them," Goodin said.