Stars for our Troops - 5 Years of Sharing in 2015
Stars for our Troops celebrated the Fifth Anniversary of sharing Stars with those that served and are serving on September 25, 2015. On September 26, 2010, Stars were distributed to a group of WWII veterans and their guardians going to Washington DC to see their monuments. The Stars were new to me and those that received them. I had forgotten that the Veterans were escorted to the airport by veterans and patriotic people on motorcycles. The events on this day changed my life as the Stars project was born.
Being a patriotic and almost retired person, in August 2010, a Germania Hall (Troy, NY) member and Florida snowbird thought I might be interested in a project she and others were doing in Florida. She worked with me on one flag, cutting and placing a Star and note into the little pouch. I am ever grateful for her showing me this project, as it has changed my life. I appreciate that Germania Hall allowed me to hold meetings at their facilities and collect flags as this adventure started.
As mentioned above, the first Star recipients were the World War II Veterans and guardians that were flying to Washington DC in September 2010. But, when I finished my short speech about the Stars and read the message, I left the podium, and was inundated with many of the motorcycle riders that were there to escort the Veterans to the airport. They wanted a Star, wanted one to give to a friend, thanked me for the service I was doing for our Veterans and current military. One Vietnam Vet was in tears as he hugged me after he received his Star, telling me about what happened to him when he returned from Vietnam. This was one of the first recognition that he had received for his service. It brought me to tears to see the support and love of our country through the emotion I saw from these Veterans, just by giving them a Star from our flag and saying “Thank You, You are Not Forgotten!”
The adventure grew from there - support from many veteran, fraternity, community organizations locally. Some of my new friends introduced me to Girl and Boy Scout leaders, Kiwanis leaders and thus Key Club members, service orientated organizations and people wanting to volunteer for a good cause.
When I explained what I was doing and did they have any extra retired flags, Gettysburg Flag Works in East Greenbush, NY was right there to support the project. Cheryl designed the logo and advertised on their website that they were accepting flags for the Stars project and gave me space to process the flags in their back work area. They introduced me to organizations, businesses, the NYS Senate Services and helped get me an interview with Reuters.
On Sunday morning of Memorial Day Weekend 2013, a simple article about Stars for our Troops was released on the internet at 6:08 AM. By Monday night, Stars had received over 1,000 messages from around the world for Stars to be mailed to those serving, veterans, people wanting to be Star Makers, and the “Is this legal?” calls and e-mails.
A couple of local groups had been working with me over the last couple of years, and frantic calls were made as we faced a task no one could have predicted. I had about 3,000 Stars pouched (60 Bags) and ready for distribution and that amount would not have taken care of just the requests to mail to our Veterans. At that time, at least 50 Star Maker kits were needed (2 cantons, 100 pouches, business cards and completed Stars). It was noted in the article and also on the website that 2 bags of 50 Stars each would be mailed to anyone currently serving, and one bag of 50 Stars mailed to any veteran. Included with the Stars would be a Thank You card with your own message to your loved one, and a copy sent to you.
The process is simple, but so much to do to complete all Stars and kits. All cantons are washed because they are donated from across the country and carry pollution and pollen from their areas. Some even come with critters (spiders, stink bugs), cocoons, dirt and mildew. We collected flags, washed the cantons and then started cutting. Notes were printed and cut, pouches and sandwich bags were purchased. A date was set to handle the task as one great big (work) Star party.
Three days after the article was introduced to the world through the internet, packages starting arriving addressed to Stars for our Troops c/o Gettysburg Flag Works.. Flags from across the country were sent with comments and Thank You for what you are doing, stories about the flags, flags that were printed, flags that had very large Stars, but flags from so many people, businesses, organizations, schools, libraries and medical facilities. What an honor to have touched so many and their willingness to participate in this project.
Surprises kept coming as the key group that had been working with me took cantons home to wash, and then cut the Stars out so they were ready to be pouched. They had their neighbors helping to cut. It was an honor to have so many willing to do what needed to be done to get all of the Stars pouched and mailed. We had an assembly line to get the Star Maker kits out. The post office kept seeing me show up with mail and we laughed at the length of the printout for the postage. We were also lucky that only a few recipients did not receive their Stars, but new Stars were mailed immediately due to opened envelopes.
At the end of the year, “Dear Heloise” commented about a letter I had sent her regarding how to dispose of flags. This appeared three days before Christmas. Was I surprised at the number of people that read that column, as they kept it and flags were mailed from just after Christmas through mid-summer.
Two weeks ago, instructions for the 14th Eagle Scout Project were sent out. This past week, instructions and a Star Maker Kit were sent to the Boy Scouts of America Troop in Brussels, Belgium. We are now international. A number of relationships have grown from the Stars - a 93 year old WWII veteran in Calif contacts me every couple of months for Stars that he gives to the old timers that served. Recently, various DAR chapters have been signing up, nursing home facilities are signing up, many youth organizations and many veteran organizations are either doing the Stars or mailing the cantons to us.
This year, we updated and now emphasize First Responders are to be included in Stars for our Troops. They are here every day to help us, and we need to thank them for all that they do. When you see one, stop and thank them for all that they do for us. If you have a Star ready, give it, but saying thank you is so important.
We have had a wonderful adventure over the past five years with so many new friends. We have helped a Navy ship mourn the loss of a pilot, given hope to those injured, a means for people to gather and talk while doing something that means so much, a memento at a funeral of a loved veteran, an Eagle Scout project for a young man with autism that now has his Eagle, something that makes distance shorter between a child and a parent serving overseas and the Stars continue spreading around the world.
Thank you to all that have participated in creating Stars at Star Parties, donated money for supplies and postage, collected flags, shared Stars and even those that forced me to research the cutting and desecration of the US Flag so I could verify that what was happening was not only proper literally but from our hearts.
Thank you to the organizations that allowed Stars for our Troops to appear at your events (and continue to participate), learning so much more about our veterans, our military, and so many organizations that are helping our veterans of today as they seek a better life.
Thank you to the Patriot Guard Riders and the other motorcycle organizations that educated me about protocol at flag lines, motorcycles, and riders. It is wonderful to see you honor someone by placing Stars on your vest, and sharing the Stars with others.
Thank you to all that couldn’t wait to tell me about what happened when you shared a Star with someone, to the children that waited patiently for the parent to locate a Star so they could give to a soldier in uniform, to the person that shared a Star and paid for the veterans cup of coffee, to the person that vowed they would carry more Stars when they traveled on their bike as they ran out before the end of their trip.
This is what the United States of America is all about - sharing the love and patriotism in our daily lives with others, without looking for a reward.
Where will Stars for our Troops be in another 5 years? Join us on the adventure.