Troop rallies won't stop until everyone home
Monday ritual reaches 100th milestone
By Mike Heine/The Week
(Published Nov. 28, 2006, 11:38 a.m.)
For two years they've gathered, sung the National Anthem, recited the Pledge of Allegiance, bowed their head in prayer and listened to the playing of Taps. Most importantly, they listen to the names of local troops serving overseas in Iraq or Afghanistan.
It's almost a ritual at the Monday troop rallies inside the Walworth County Government Center, where attendees all have one thing in common.
"They're always rising to the occasion to support the troops, morally, physically and emotionally," said Rich Hinners, Walworth County American Legion commander.
Since November 29, 2004, the 10 Walworth County American Legion posts have held Support Our Troops rallies every Monday morning at the government center.
Last Monday was an historic milestone for the rallies. It was the 100th such gathering to support the United States service men and women serving in war zones.
Since the inception of the rallies, the theme has not changed, American Legion Spokesman Robert Webster said.
"I think we've stuck pretty close to our original rationale," he said. "We want to get the message to the troops and the families that we recognize their sacrifices and that it's appreciated. We want them to know that."
Each week, legion members have read the names of those troops with ties to Walworth County who currently serve in either of the two war zones, are preparing to go to war, or who have served and returned home or to another base.
The list started with about eight names. At the 100th rally, Delavan Legion member Joe Guido Sr. read of the names of about 140 soldiers who spent time overseas and came home and 24 soldiers still serving a tour of duty. He also noted one soldier who was killed in action. A moment of silence and prayer reflected his service.
Most that come to the rallies are connected to a service man or woman who is or has served overseas during the latest conflicts. Many others are service veterans themselves.
Not all support the wars, but everyone supports the troops, attendees say.
"We have to be aware. These kids give up a lot so we can go to the library in freedom, or go to church in freedom, or go to school in freedom."
Two veterans from Operation Iraqi Freedom visited the 100th rally Monday.
"What they're doing for us is great," said Army veteran Robert Hall, who recently completed his service duty with the National Guard. He and fellow Army soldier Nancy Lightfield, said the care packages sent to the bases by the Support Our Troops Committee were well-received and appreciated.
Webster said it's important that the names are read each week to keep up the morale of the troops, their families and friends.
Veterans who served in World War II and the Korean War dropped the ball when it came time to honor Vietnam War veterans, he said.
"We missed it, colossally, by not giving them more support and recognition," Webster said. The rallies help ensure that won't happen again.
"To some small extent, what we're trying to do is avoid something like that from happening this time around."
While it's satisfying that the rallies have not faltered after 100 weeks--they have averaged about 30 attendees--reaching the milestone is a somewhat sorrowful occasion. The United States' involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan has outlasted the country's involvement in both World Wars, and there is still no timeline for troop withdrawal from either conflict.
"Nothing will make us more happy than to say everyone's home and we don't have to have any more rallies," Webster said.
Until then, the troop rallies won't stop, said Beverly McLaughlin, whose grandson Josh Garvens is in Iraq.
"It will just keep going. We will keep being here every Monday morning."
Support Our Troops Rally facts
The first rally was held Nov. 29, 2004
A rally was held every Monday since except for three holidays
There are more than 30 soldiers serving overseas with direct county ties
More than 140 have served and returned home
Each of their names are read at every rally
The Support Our Troops Committee has sent overseas troops 209 care packages, 333 phone cards (valued at almost $3,800), 95 small American flags, 30 Christmas cards, 30 Veteran's Day cards, 734 cool ties (a scarf that when wet can keep cool for two days), 3,528 Thank You cards and 596 Get Well cards to a wounded local soldier.
Care package items have included candy, homemade cookies, toiletry items, eye drops, sanitary hand wipes, toothbrushes, toothpaste, postcards of encouragement and more.
- Holiday care packages sent out this week included decorated mini Christmas trees and handheld electronic poker games.
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