Then and Now Americans Support Their Troops

By Bob Dole and Lonnie Moore
Special to AFPS

The two of us were born more than 50 years and nearly 160 miles apart. But we are connected to each other — and to so many of our fellow Americans — in ways that easily surpass both age and geography.

We were born and raised in Kansas. Both of us are Army veterans. And both of us nearly lost our lives on the battlefield.

We were wounded near Castel d’ Aiano, Italy, on April 14th, 1945; and in Ramadi, Iraq, on April 6th, 2004, respectively. We were struck down by Italian bullets and Iraqi rocket-propelled grenades almost exactly 49 years apart.

These connections of shared military experience, of circumstance and of history, are eternally meaningful for the two of us and for millions of other veterans.

We are sharing our experiences on this Veterans Day, when we honor our brothers in arms, to also pay tribute to our shared connection with Americans on the home front, to the enduring power of their letters and their packages and their contributions, to the transcendent grace of their gratitude and prayers.

Support the troops. It is a noble idea, and a long-standing American tradition. And in the 50 years that separate the two of us, it has played out in countless unique ways. But at its simplest and most essential, it just means getting a letter from home.

Back in World War II, letters that arrived in a week were considered speedy. Today anyone can go to the Web site www.americasupportsyou.mil to send a letter to a soldier abroad with just a click of the mouse, and to read soldiers’ replies just as quickly.

The America Supports You Web site is much more than an electronic post office. Created by the Department of Defense, it connects and inspires ordinary Americans who are doing something to support the troops, while at the same time amplifying the impact of their efforts. It is, to borrow a military phrase, a "force multiplier" for Americans on the home front.

Writing letters to a soldier may seem a bit quaint today. But back in World War II, few things were more disheartening for a soldier than to go to mail call every day and never get a letter.

In Iraq today, even soldiers without families back home get literally boxes and boxes of letters from Americans in every corner of the country.

In the sometimes lonely and always stressful nights of war, these notes of concern and appreciation from complete strangers, from school children in Wichita, Kansas, to elderly women in retirement homes, are an immediate and necessary connection to home — they are a reminder that our service has a national purpose.

But the connection to home also has a, well, practical purpose. One that speaks more to everyday comforts than to our deeper emotional needs, but which many soldiers will tell you affects their morale nearly as much.

Back in World War II, we were lucky to get "goodie" packages filled with sunflower seeds, candy, oranges, and even shoes. These items were bought by parents and neighbors with their own food coupons. Contributions were collected in cigar boxes on drug store counters.

Today an America Supports You member organization like "Soldiers’ Wish List" mobilizes a virtual, internet-connected national "neighborhood" to send soldiers mountains of cookies, DVDs, phone cards, video games and even tooth brushes.

Maybe all of this talk of letters and care packages seems a bit trivial in a time of war. Maybe it is hard for Americans to understand the real value of all their kind gestures and small gifts when the context is conflict and war. But our own experience shows that it is precisely the sober context that makes all the little efforts of support so essential.

As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, both of us had to recover from life- and body- altering injuries. We can tell you that whatever the medical technology, recovery and rehabilitation are as much an emotional challenge as a physical one. It is hard to put into words how important it was for us to hear from ordinary Americans that despite the damage done to our bodies, that we were still full persons whose sacrifice was not only appreciated, but meaningful.

Few things are as therapeutic to the injured as the tangible support – big and small — provided by friends and strangers back home. The cliché, in this case, is true. It is the thought that counts.

And as much as the two of us are connected by our Kansas roots, and by our military backgrounds, and by the shared experience of our injuries, we share an even deeper connection with all of you back home who in ways large and small let us know, then and now, that Americans support their troops. Your support made our service possible. And that’s as true today as it was 50 years ago. And just as necessary.

(Former Kansas Senator Bob Dole was a second lieutenant in the Army’s 10th Mountain Division during World War II. Wichita native and retired Army Capt. Lonnie Moore fought in Operation Iraqi Freedom with the 1st Infantry Division. He now works outside of Washington, D.C.)