During the holidays, we're reminded of all for which we are thankful. At the same time, we cannot forget those who need our support, especially U.S. troops overseas and wounded warriors lying in hospital beds unable to come home for the holidays.
The American Legion's Operation Comfort Warriors program is my major fundraising program this year because it is truly a gift, with no promotional or administrative fees attached. Every dollar donated goes to buy products and services that improve the lives of wounded veterans and military personnel. My goal is to raise $500,000 to help provide comfort to our wounded and sick servicemembers. I have no doubt we can really make an impact this holiday season after I witnessed firsthand the generosity of members participating in the 2012 National Legion College.
One Legion College group's presentation was about the OCW program and raising awareness for it. In a matter of minutes, the students raised more than $100 for OCW by auctioning off an OCW hat and water bottle, along with a bobblehead doll of Past National Commander Robert W. Spanogle. By the end of Legion College, the 55 students had donated more than $1,000 for OCW from their own pockets.
Also, I personally heard from a wounded warrior and Legion College student about the positive effect comfort items have on servicemembers. Army veteran Jim Lish of Leitchfield, Ky., was wounded in 2004 while serving in Iraq. When he arrived at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany with nothing but his tattered, dirty military uniform, veterans were waiting for him with gifts of sweatsuits, socks and toiletries. Lish thanked us – his Legion College peers and National Headquarters staff – for caring so much for wounded warriors who often have little more than the clothes on their backs when they are admitted for care. He stressed how programs like OCW take the strain off wounded soldiers because they don't have to worry about passing their time in recovery wearing only military hospital pajamas.
Such support is in our DNA. In the weeks ahead, the Legion's National Headquarters staff will hand out gift cards and door prizes during a holiday dinner in Washington, D.C., for wounded warriors. Dozens of distributions are planned for the months ahead at military medical facilities and transition units around the world. One department recently raised more than $6,000 to create a healing garden at a local VA facility, all because the state commander enforced a few simple, fun rules to raise money at the post, district and state levels. All across the country, and around the world, Legionnaires will put on fish fries, bingo games and silent auctions this holiday season to raise money for veterans and troops in need, or to fulfill some other community need.
I am asking all of you – all of us – to remember Operation Comfort Warriors (www.legion.org/ocw ) this holiday season. Our wounded warriors deserve the very best we have to give. So please give, and let the men and women serving our country know how much we care by giving them a gift with no strings attached, nothing but a big ‘thank you' from us, their fellow veterans, so that they might know where our hearts are at.