MADELEINE BRAND, host:
Also on duty today, of course, U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq. Today we're going to hear from family members writing their loved ones who are serving in the Middle East.
We begin with a letter from Denise Gionet of Pelham, New Hampshire. This is her second Thanksgiving without her son Dan. He died in Iraq in June of 2006.
So last Thanksgiving, after he had died, Denise felt compelled to write to Dan one last time. Here she is reading from her letter.
Ms. DENISE GIONET: Despite the emotional pain and the loss I feel everyday, I'm still thankful for so much. I'm very thankful I had you to love for 23 years. I wish it could've been much longer, but you brought me an awful lot of joy, happiness and pride. I'm thankful that my last words were to you, God bless you, buddy, I love you. It helps me to get through every day.
Here at home, we're all watching out for each other. I'm thankful for Pete. He's been like a rock for me. When I collapse from emotional exhaustion, he's there to pick me back up. He comes with me to the wakes of other fallen soldiers in the area. And he takes me to the cemetery when he knows I need to talk to you. He is taking me to the place in Hudson where they design monuments. And we're working on your headstone.
So my love, Happy Thanksgiving. Thank you for being with me. Each and every day I love you more. Love, Mom.
BRAND: Denise Gionet reading a Thanksgiving letter to her son, Dan, who died in Iraq last year. Her daughter Alicia just finished Navy boot camp and will spend Thanksgiving in Florida with her unit.
Across the country, in Utah, another Denise, Denise De Vynck, has collected thousands of letters to send to soldiers. She runs a Web site called Letterstosoldiers.org, where anyone can write to the troops.
I spoke to her earlier and asked her why she started the site.
Ms. DENISE DE VYNCK (Letterstosoldiers.com): I had met so many soldiers that have come back from Iraq who were saying I got three e-mails in the 15 months I was there. Here is my address if anyone who wants to write to me.
And I was shocked that these are people I know who have family and lots of friends and they weren't getting e-mail while they're serving in such a difficult situation. So I decided I'm going to go out there and start collecting some letters.
BRAND: So you started this Web site a few months ago, and anyone who goes to it can just write a note to a soldier?
Ms. DE VYNCK: Yes, they can. And it is a volunteer effort. I have been buying all the materials with either my money or money that I've collected at the booths. We ask for donations. We're complete volunteer.
BRAND: Who writes these letters?
Ms. DE VYNCK: Everyone from tiny little two-year-old babies that scribble a little, you know, drawing the best they can, and mom and dad writes, you know, Jade, two years old; to little six-year-olds that can write a letter. Like I had one here that I absolutely love of a little girl who just really understands and said we want you, dear soldier, to come home safe.
BRAND: And then how do you decide which soldier gets which letter?
Ms. DE VYNCK: I don't. We are asking for chaplains' APO addresses. I already have a couple of them, and then the chaplains will distribute these. They actually travel from camp to camp. And they are the best to know which soldiers really need a letter that day to cheer them up. And so they're going to be distributing them.
BRAND: I'm wondering though, what is the response from the soldiers there on the ground when they get a letter from someone they've never met before?
Ms. DE VYNCK: I'll tell you. As a commander in the Navy, a friend of mine over there that has taken a bunch of them, I'll quote a card that he sent me. And he said, I had to read all the letters myself and then I distributed them with everyone I work with. And he said, just to put them in your words, the ones from the kids are the ones that mean the most to us. We love them. They're priceless.
BRAND: Well, Denise De Vynck, thank you very much for speaking with us.
Ms. DE VYNCK: Absolutely.
BRAND: Denise De Vynck, she runs a Web site called Letterstosoldiers.org, and she joined us from KPCW in Salt Lake City, Utah.
And if you have written to someone in combat this holiday season, we'd like to hear from you. Contact us at our Web site, npr.org and click on the Contact Us link. It's at the top of every page. Be sure to include Letters from Home in your subject line.
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