One of my favorite clauses in the Preamble to the Constitution of The American Legion comes at the end: "To consecrate and sanctify our comradeship by our devotion to mutual helpfulness."
These are more than words. They are a pledge to help our comrades. Operation Comfort Warriors is the epitome of that pledge. The men and women defending America in uniform are, indeed, our comrades. They help us by preserving our way of life; we help them by providing comfort items to those who are wounded or sick.
Thanks to the generosity of our American Legion family members and friends, we have purchased sweat suits, phone cards, DVDs, CDs, iPods, puzzles, books, video games, and other items for men and women who are recovering at military hospitals and warrior transition units. These items won't make all of these heroes "whole" again, but it does show them that we care and we appreciate their sacrifice.
More than 35,000 men and women in U.S. military uniforms have been injured since the global war on terrorism started. Factor in the thousands who are hospitalized each year because of accidents or illnesses, and you can see that the need to help is quite significant. From December 2008 until the close of the 91st National Convention in Louisville, Ky., last August, The American Legion family raised about $189,000 for Operation Comfort Warriors. One of my first acts as national commander was to set a new goal: to raise an additional $100,000 by the end of this year; we already have brought the total to more than $210,000.
The goal is achievable. Donald Williams, a World War II veteran and Legionnaire from Clinton, Minn., sent a note along with a check imploring us to "keep Operation Comfort Warriors going." Bruce D. Edwards of San Diego added, "I am a former Marine from Vietnam and glad to be able to contribute to this ongoing campaign."
Not a penny of donated money is spent on administrative costs or marketing. Those expenses are paid from our headquarters budget.
The American Legion has found a special partner to help distribute some of these items. Klay South was shot in the face and leg by an Iraqi insurgent during the 2004 battle of Fallujah. This Marine also bore the brunt of a grenade blast and endured more than 40 follow-up surgeries and procedures. Now with a titanium jaw and 22 false teeth, South has dedicated himself to supporting his fellow wounded warriors with a group of his own called Veterans of Valor.
Impressed by this dedicated veteran, delegates at our 91st American Legion National Convention passed Resolution 108, which supports Veterans of Valor and its programs to assist severely wounded veterans. A Legionnaire from Post 252 in Greenwood, Ind., South is not paid for his efforts – he is one more Legionnaire who helps make Operation Comfort Warriors the success it is.
Some people may think that expecting $100,000 during an economic recession is too lofty a goal. I don't. Legion family members are generous, and the holiday season is fast-approaching. What better way is there to show your holiday spirit than to remember those who have served and are still serving?