You would think for an organization like Veterans of Foreign Wars, sending care packages to troops stationed overseas would be a natural idea.
But James Parker, Commander of the VFW branch in Memphis, MO, says that while his organization helps take care of veterans returning from overseas, the idea of taking care of them while they are still over there wasn’t as obvious as it might seem.
At least it wasn’t obvious until they saw what OOIDA was doing with its annual Truckers for Troops Telethon.
“When you actually see somebody actually doing it and you hear about it, you think ‘Well, why didn’t we do that?’ ” Parker told Land Line Now.
Parker, who’s been commander of the post since June, says the VFW has a “prideful nature” in taking care of their own when they come back, but the post did not see those on active duty as soldiers that needed worrying about. But now, he said the branch in Memphis will be taking a “different approach.”
“We’re getting more active for those that are already overseas versus trying to take care of those that came back,” he said.
In kicking off the new project, Parker said one of the biggest questions they had to answer was to figure out exactly what troops stationed overseas needed. That was where OOIDA’s Trucker for Troops effort came in.
Connie Becraft of OOIDA’s Truck Underwriting Department has been an integral part of OOIDA’s Truckers for Troops and, a native of Memphis herself, she was only too happy to give Commander Parker some ideas of what was needed.
Parker said talking to OOIDA was helpful because he really didn’t know what the men and women over there need right now.
“From talking to Connie and folks like that, we decided we don’t even care if it’s something they need or not,” he said. “I know we can do it, so let’s do it.”
Connie, who has a son in the military, gave Commander Parker the list that OOIDA uses to fill its care packages each year.
“The number one thing she gave us was, other than the inspiration to actually do it and don’t worry about asking permission, just do it,” said Parker. “It’s kind of strange, the types of stuff they actually needed over there, and we didn’t have a clue.”
Parker said while prayers are always good and letters are great, he was amazed at some of the things on OOIDA’s list, including Silly String, which the troops use for detecting trip wires. But the most important things, he said, were the everyday, ordinary items that most of us take for granted.
“Some of it is just comfort things, clean socks, the basic dry noodle that you can always add water to. The little things – hand sanitizer, something to help you stay clean because obviously they’re in a not-clean environment,” Parker said.
“Dust and crap, it gets all through you and you just want to feel clean once even though you know tomorrow’s another day.”
The Memphis VFW has only just begun sending packages, but plan to do a lot more. He says they wouldn’t even be as far as they are if not for the help of OOIDA and Connie Becraft.
“I remember Uncle Sam telling me ‘if I thought you needed it, I’d give it to you’ and some of it we kind of looked at like maybe we’re burdening the system with an overload of help,” he said. “In fact, we thought maybe we just need to stay the hell out of the way.”
Parker’s new line of thinking is that the military has obviously accepted this.
“They haven’t fought it. They haven’t stopped it,” he said. “I’m thinking maybe they kind of like it, so let’s just do it.”
While the supplies themselves are important, Commander Parker said the most meaningful thing they send is a message – not just to the troops, but to the people who live in these foreign countries and even to the enemy.
Parker said he recalls the scene from the famous war movie “Battle of the Bulge.”
“The Germans had overrun a drop zone, and they had received chocolate cake wrapped in newspaper, I believe it was from New York or Philadelphia. It was less than a week old. When the Germans saw it, they knew they were whipped. They knew if we could afford to send chocolate cake halfway around the world within a week, they couldn’t possibly beat us.”
Parker believes that even if those boxes for U.S. troops end up in the wrong hands, the message would be similar to the scene in the movie. If the Americans have the resources to get care packages of Silly String, socks and Frisbees into the hands of their fighting sons and daughters halfway around the world, he said, we “can’t be stopped.”
If you want to do your part to help the troops, your chance is coming. The OOIDA Truckers for Troops telethon starts on Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day.
– By Terry Scruton, senior correspondent