"This might cheer them up"

October 05, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

When it was time for mail call, the troops would gather in a circle and Terry Sholty would wait for his name to be hollered.

Then, like many other soldiers when he heard his name, Sholty would reach his hand in to grab his letter and smell it to get a scent of home before retreating to his private space to read it. Sometimes he would share his letter with fellow soldiers.

"Getting mail is kind of the highlight of your day. Everybody went to mail call, whether you got mail or not. You were just hoping you got mail," said Army veteran Sholty, of Boonsboro.


Sholty spent two Christmases overseas on military duty, including Christmas 1957 in South Korea, so he has a good idea how much the troops away from home would appreciate a holiday card - even if it's from a stranger.

"I think this might cheer them up a bit," Sholty said.

Sholty and his wife, Susie, are members of the South Washington County Military Support Group. Fellow member Lynn Jones came up with the idea for a holiday card drive for troops in September and has received tremendous feedback from some local schools, churches, businesses, friends and family who will be creating or buying holiday cards for the soldiers, she said.

This will be the first Christmas that Jones spends without either her daughter, Army Pvt. 1st Class Kelly Hurlbrink, or her son, Army Spc. Kevin Hurlbrink. Both are in Iraq as part of the 82nd Airborne Division and aren't expected back until next April or the fall of 2004, Jones said.

"I'm struggling with the Christmas holiday season coming," said Jones, 41, of Keedysville.

"When your loved one's gone, it's hard. And if it's hard for me here, I can't imagine how hard it is for them there. We have our families, friends, pets here," Jones said.

The public has not been able to send mail to deployed troops through "Operation Dear Abby" and "Any Service Member" mail programs due to the anthrax threat. Mail can be sent directly to specific soldiers.

Jones said support group members will collect the cards, check them for any inappropriate substances or content and send them unsealed to their loved ones, who then will distribute them to fellow soldiers.

The group also has started accepting from local residents the names and unit addresses of their loved ones serving overseas this holiday season so the support group can send them cards to distribute to soldiers, she said.

Show of support

The holiday card drive gives the public an outlet to show their support and, it is hoped, will lift the spirits of the soldiers, Jones said.

"(Mail) is very important, especially around the holidays," said Cpl. Nicholas Sholty, who spent his first Christmas away from home last year. "It boosts morale, lets them know that people still remember us overseas," he said.

Sholty, 22, recently returned home from two years overseas and is now an Army recruiter in Hagerstown.

Susie Sholty said her son received a care package of homemade cookies and candy from her on Christmas Eve last year when he was stationed in Germany. He shared the treats with fellow soldiers, many of whom had few family ties so they weren't getting much if any mail, she said.

Sholty said if she'd known the situation was that grim, she would have sent more treats for her son to share.

Some group members' loved ones have been overseas since February and were recently told they won't be back until March or April, Jones said.

Patty Bolland's son, Glenn Bolland, has seen at least two return dates go by and he still hasn't been sent home. Bolland said Saturday she has heard her son could be home any time now for a two-week leave.

"It's the down time that's the killer," said Bolland, 51, of Boonsboro. "I guess that's the time that they have too much time to think."

Collecting music

Bolland also is collecting music for troops overseas.

"Music is a big thing for guys that age," she said.

The holiday cards and music are ways of showing the troops people back home support them and allows mail to get to many soldiers who haven't been getting any, Bolland said.

Betty and Don Burger's son, Danny Burger, has been in Iraq since February, Betty Burger said.

"We don't know when he's coming home. The only time we'll know is when it happens," said Burger, of Halfway.

The Burgers, Danny's wife and his in-laws send him care packages he can share with the other soldiers, she said.

"They can't wait to see a box arrive," Burger said.

Burger said the card drive should be a good morale booster.

"The guys need something from home letting them know that there are people, even if they're not family members, that there are people over here in the states that are thinking of them during the holidays," she said.

Wanda Brown, 77, of Hagerstown, said mail, care packages and e-mails from home are about all the soldiers overseas "have to live for right now."

Her granddaughter, Melissa Brown of Hagerstown, is in Baghdad, she said.

"They're really down if they don't get mail," Brown said.

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