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.

Research found this article that was an influence of Susan getting involved after seeing a Star in August 2010.

St. Petersburg Times

May 3, 2009

Hernando County women use stars to thank troops and veterans
By Beth N. Gray, Times Correspondent

Four women send stars from worn-out flags to military men and women.

BROOKSVILLE - Stars that once fluttered from flagpoles flying the nation's red, white and blue are now going into the pockets of military men and women.

Four women from across Hernando County who have been providing goods from home and moral support to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan for several years have launched a new effort, called the Star Project.

From U.S. flags that have worn out their colors and fabric, the women and their friends are cutting from them the fields of blue, then scissoring off the embroidered stars.

Into a plastic bag goes a star and a wallet-sized card with a flag background explaining: "I am part of our American flag that has flown over a home in Florida. I can no longer fly. The sun and winds have caused me to become tattered and torn. Please carry me as a reminder that you are not forgotten."

Having received worn-out flags collected by VFW Post 10209, Spring Hill, and "everybody," Linda Kidwell said she's made up "thousands" of packets in the past year. She has packed them in some 1,200 Gifts from Home boxes, whose filling she has coordinated.

At the VFW she met a soldier recently returned from the Middle East.

"He said he carried (the star) all the time," she said. "Every time he opened his wallet he knew that people back home were thinking about him, that we were all there for him."

Kidwell broadened her outreach. "I always carry these stars with me," she said, for chance encounters with veterans.

Thankful veterans

At a recent Veterans Fair at Chocachatti Elementary School, where she staffed a station touting Gifts from Home, a Vietnam veteran was passing by her. Kidwell offered him a packet.

"This guy grabbed me and starting crying. He said, "You just don't know what this means to me.' It dawned on me that I wasn't there for Gifts from Home. I just started passing them out to all veterans."

Most appreciative, Kidwell noted, were Vietnam veterans who weren't welcomed home with enthusiasm or accolades. She knows whereof she speaks. Her husband, Larry Kidwell, served there. He is now disabled from his assignment on a riverboat bearing asbestos in its construction, and from post-traumatic stress syndrome.

"I feel very proud of Vietnam vets," she said.

Jan Zabel, family service representative for VFW Post 9236 in Hernando Beach, from whose members she is soliciting worn flags, is the local representative of Blue Star Mothers, women whose children are in the military.

Her son Kendal is a Black Hawk helicopter pilot in the Army. Her son Aaron is a Navy man just back from a stint in Afghanistan. Zabel's husband, Louis, served 20 years with the Air Force.

Dee Mills, whose son Lea died in Iraq in 2006 and who formed Lea's Prayers and Postage, is augmenting the effort both by providing postage and star-card preparations with neighborhood friends in Masaryktown.

"It's a community effort," she said, noting the project has raised some $100,000 in postage to send packages. "It's just a wonderful act of gratitude to our troops. We're getting one more patriotic use out of the red, white and blue."

Kidwell has forwarded a packet to Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Brooksville, who has promised to give it to Sen. John McCain.

Respect for the flag

Barbara (Newlin) Burke, who founded Treat the Troops locally, gathering friends to bake cookies for those stationed overseas, is in on the Star Project as well. Treat the Troops has shipped more than 70,800 home-baked cookies, cards and well wishes to date.

Burke emphasized that she tapped into Internet sites to learn how to properly dispose of U.S. flags and learned that the blue fields and stars may be cut away, the stripes returned to VFWs or Boy Scouts for ceremonial burning.

"I wanted to make sure we weren't defacing the flag," she said. "The flag will be treated with respect at all times."

Kidwell is treasuring a special donation, a flag carried over Memorial Bridge in Washington, D.C., in a parade that culminated at the Vietnam War Memorial.

"I need to find the right people to give (those stars) to," she said.

Linda Kidwell slides a star from an American flag into a plastic sleeve. The stars are then given to troops or veterans as symbol of gratitude for their service.

Thank you for this wonderful Project

Hello, my name is Diana. I had served in The United States Army for a little over eight years. I am a very proud veteran and what my company did for its veterans this year was so heartwarming. 

This Veterans Day (2014), my employer in West Virginia, came to each veteran that works here and personally shook each veterans hand and thanked us for our service and sacrifices. They had also given us an envelope. Inside the envelope was a thank you note that was signed by the department heads. It simply states, hand written mind you also, "Thank you for your service, sacrifice and patriotism." Inside this thank you note also was a flag lapel pin and Your Star! Even though this was the smallest of gestures, it made me feel so much pride, patriotism and gratitude with the time that these department heads took out of their day to seek out and honor each veteran that works at the plant on all three shifts. Also this display for gratitude and thankfulness, made me cry. 

After they walked away, I went back to the card and took a second look at the card, the pin and the wonderful star that was in the note. I then at that time flipped the star over to see what the message said. As I read each word, I could feel once again the tears filling up my eyes, I was fully crying when I reached the words, "You are not forgotten." 

Holding that star in my hand knowing that this came from one of our flags that had flown in the USA, there are no words that can honestly described what was swelling in my heart. 

I am honored to hold this star true to my heart because I also had known what Old Glory has sacrificed herself. She has flown over the USA but there were others that have flown over every military installation both on the home front and abroad. She has flown in every type of weather that Mother Nature has thrown at her. Her colors have stood fast, never bleeding or running. She is a true veteran as well. I am truly honored to have received this star and will forever be humbled and grateful to carry on a great part of one of our flags. Thank you doesn't seem to be enough, but I truly do not know what else to say. Thank You from the bottom of this veteran’s heart, and I thank God for all of these volunteers that have made this so special for this Veteran! 

I thank you for my star and for the wonderful program that you all are doing. Thank You and God Speed!

November 2014

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