As children, there is nothing quite like the thrill of opening presents on Christmas morning. The anticipation, being unable to sleep the night before, then the joy as your hands rip at the paper that soon becomes a blur in the air as you tear into each package.
But as we get older, we begin to realize that while opening presents are nice, watching someone open a gift you have taken the time to pick out feels even better. That sense of receiving is replaced by a greater sense of giving.
Today, we will share that feeling with friends and family. We're the lucky ones. For others, Christmas may not be as joyful a time, and it won't be celebrated at home. Instead, they may be hundreds, even thousands of miles away from home, recovering in a military hospital. If they're lucky, their family has been able to travel to visit them. But for some, Christmas will be spent with fellow patients and the hospital staff.
With those patients in mind, The American Legion started Operation Comfort Warriors one year ago. The program raises funds to purchase comfort items for recovering servicemembers: items such as sweat suits, phone cards, DVDs, CDs, iPods, puzzles, books, video games and other items for men and women at military hospitals and warrior transition units.
When I was sworn in as national commander last August, I asked my fellow Legionnaires to help me keep the fund going strong. I set a goal of raising an additional $100,000 by the end of 2009. I knew it was ambitious at the time, but I also know how generous Legionnaires can be.
My optimism was proven to be correct last week. On Dec. 18, National Headquarters received a call from a Legionnaire who had read my request for OCW donations in the December issue of The American Legion Magazine. The Legionnaire, an Army veteran, liked what he read.
"When I found out that all of the money donated goes right into the program, I thought, ‘This is great,'" said the Legionnaire, who requested to remain anonymous. "I called National Headquarters and asked how short the fund was of the goal the commander had set ($100,000) to be raised by the end of the year."
The Legionnaire was told the fund was approximately $52,000 short. That day, the Legionnaire - who I called to personally thank - sent a cashier's check to National Headquarters for $50,000. It already has been received, along with another few thousand dollars in donations that brought the total to more than $100,000 raised since I took office and more than $291,000 since we began raising funds in December 2008.
"My father fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was a POW," the Legionnaire said. "He was a member of The American Legion, and when he died he left me some money. I couldn't think of a better way to spend the money than to donate it to this fund. In some way, this donation is coming from two Legionnaires."
Though for years I have seen the good work this organization is capable of, I still cannot help but be amazed sometimes at the results we can get. But we're not done. The need for Operation Comfort Warriors is going to be around as long as our men and women are deployed throughout the world in hostile environments. Your donations are still needed. And it's easy to donate online or by sending a check to Operation Comfort Warriors, P.O. Box 1055, Indianapolis, IN 46206. Administrative and promotional costs for Operation Comfort Warriors are paid by The American Legion, allowing 100 percent of the donations to be spent directly on the troops.
For more than nine decades, Legionnaires have truly exemplified the spirit of giving. For doing it under my watch, I thank you and wish all of you a wonderful holiday season.