- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

Vietnam War veteran Harry Andersen still remembers the much-needed respite he found in a care package his mother-in-law sent to him every month while he fought overseas.

The retired chief warrant officer from Odenton, Md. always got one thing: a pound and a half of pistachio nuts. “We’d have a beer-and-pistachio-nuts party once a month,” said Mr. Andersen, who served as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam.

So, Mr. Andersen, 61, didn’t miss a chance yesterday to pass on that feeling of relief to the young troops now serving overseas. He was one of dozens of area veterans who showed up at Fort Belvoir, where they spent their Veterans Day filling United Service Organizations (USO) care packages for the servicemen and servicewomen now fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“I feel badly for the guys over there, and I can empathize with them,” Mr. Andersen said. “These boys and girls, they need our support.”

Many veterans said the work gave them a chance to bring hope to their comrades in arms.

“It’s troops giving back to troops, soldiers giving back to their own,” said Chad Best, a former Army sergeant who is deputy director of the Washington area’s Operation USO Care Package program.

“I’ve been on the other end of the spectrum … I know what it’s like to look to my right and left and see smiles on the other end,” the eight-year Army veteran added.

Twenty-one veterans came from the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Northwest. Others came from local American Legion posts and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Northwest.

For seven hours at the on-base USO warehouse yesterday, the veterans and active military volunteers stuffed packages with disposable cameras, AT&T; international calling cards, snacks and toiletries.

The volunteers formed assembly lines to stuff care items into large plastic bags, while others gathered around tables to place well-wishing messages into the care packages.

By noon, volunteers filled some 2,500 care packages. They rang a bell and applauded after every 500 packages were filled.

Like Mr. Andersen, other volunteers also were motivated to participate in the USO program because each of them had been on the other side.

Culinary Spc. 1st Class Pam Jennings said a package of phone cards she received in Bahrain last year enabled her to call home and talk to her loved ones, a nice push that got her through a miserable day.

“Care packages from anybody are great — they come as the best surprise,” said Miss Jennings, 37, enlisted aide to the commandant, Naval District Washington. “Right now, my brother-in-law is in Iraq. It’s just giving a little something back.”

Harold “Doc” Schultz, an 83-year-old resident at the Armed Forces Retirement Home, was an Air Force cook stationed in England during World War II. He found a striking parallel between a job he held in the past and the one he took on yesterday.

“I’m a retired serviceman and a retired Santa Claus,” Mr. Schultz said. “We want to give [the troops] cheer and give them hope.”

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