As fellow veterans made their way to the World War II Memorial here, Santiago Tijerina Jr. took time to remember what holiday mail meant to him during his service abroad in the first Gulf War.
“It meant someone back home was thinking of us,” he said. “It gave us the commitment and the drive to keep doing what we were there to do.”
On Veterans Day, Tijerina, of Indianapolis, paused to sign a holiday card destined for a current service member through the Holiday Mail for Heroes project, co-sponsored for the fourth year by the American Red Cross and Pitney Bowes Inc.
With organized and individual card-signings across the United States, the Red Cross and Pitney Bowes hope to collect 1 million cards by Dec. 10 for distribution abroad and in the United States to military bases and hospitals, veterans’ hospitals and other locations.
Tourists, students and federal workers on holiday signed hundreds of cards Thursday in an Army green tent outside Red Cross national headquarters in Washington. In the late morning, the well-wishers could hear a bugler play taps in a ceremony in the park across the street; in the afternoon, singer Amy Grant, a member of the Red Cross National Celebrity Cabinet and spokesperson for Holiday Mail for Heroes, performed “God Bless America” before signing cards of her own design.
“I like this because it is something everyone can participate in,” Grant said.
In Greensboro, N.C., Red Cross volunteer Bud Frediani, an Air Force veteran of Vietnam, spent Veterans Day morning encouraging his community to participate.
Most of the mail that reached Frediani in Vietnam came from his wife and family, but a very meaningful message arrived from the Red Cross in July 1968: a telephone call informing him that his wife had given birth to a healthy daughter.
“After what the Red Cross did for me, I said, ‘Someday, I’ve got to volunteer for that organization,’” Frediani said.
“When you’re overseas, away from your family during the holidays, you’re pretty much alone,” he said. “I know how much those cards mean to people in the military.”
At the World War II Memorial, visitors and veterans of many wars accepted a blank card and a pen from Red Cross volunteer Bethany Shumate, whose husband is a lieutenant in the U.S. Coast Guard.
Kids signed holiday cards on a low marble wall; men and women in black motorcycle leathers propped cards on each other’s backs; and World War II veterans in wheelchairs balanced cards on their laps—all sending good wishes from home to those who serve.
Tijerina said the effort will be appreciated: “It meant a lot, getting mail,” he said. “And mail from somebody you don’t know means the world.”