- The Washington Times - Monday, December 24, 2001

With lingering worries about anthrax in the mail, "Dear Abby" and the military are turning to the Internet to make sure holiday letters get to U.S. troops overseas.
After initiatives to send letters and packages to service personnel abroad were blocked by the Pentagon in late October, the columnists and the military adopted an assuredly anthrax-free approach the Web site www.OperationDearAbby.net.
The site, created in late November and run by the Navy, transmits messages from the home front "to a ship at sea, a submarine beneath the sea and even a cave in Afghanistan," said Jeanne Phillips, from the mother-daughter team working under the pen name Abigail Van Buren, or "Dear Abby" to readers of their daily column.
"It was a shock," she said, speaking of her reaction to the news that the annual letter-writing campaign had been suspended. "But the military has rescued this program, and I'm overwhelmed."
In the 21/2 weeks since the Web site went live, it has been visited more than 8 million times, and the campaign has collected more than 100,000 messages, said Navy spokesman Cmdr. Rudolph Brewington.
The original "Dear Abby" letter drive, begun in 1967 for troops in Vietnam, has resulted in long-distance relationships including pen pals, and gifts such as cookies, even Christmas trees. And, of course, tons and tons of mail, Mrs. Phillips said.
The system will be active all year rather than just from mid-November through mid-January, she said.
Pushing the column's 95 million readers to address notes to soldiers overseas began with Mrs. Phillips' mother, Pauline.
Pauline Phillips invented the pen name and column in 1956 after the San Francisco Chronicle offered her a chance to put her pen where her mouth was. The offer came shortly after she called the newspaper to say she could write a better advice column than the one it was publishing.

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