By Jeanne Sager
MONTICELLO September 14, 2004 There was a unifying message Saturday at the Elks Lodge in Monticello.
A lot of people dont support the war, but we should support our troops, said Susan Greene of Woodbourne.
Some were spouting off support for President Bush, others just writing simple messages to a soldier but they were all gathered in Monticello to remember Sept. 11 in a proactive way.
They were volunteers on a mission to help Monticello resident Stephanie Johnson, the head of the local chapter of Operation Support Our Troops.
Johnson has been working since early this spring to collect goodies to send to military men and women overseas.
Her message has always been one of bipartisanship.
In a country polarized by politics and arguments over a war being waged thousands of miles away, Johnson has remained cautiously in the middle.
Im not pro-war, Im pro-soldier, shes said.
And shes a proud American.
Saturday, Johnson showed her American spirit with an event aimed at bringing people together to honor the memories of people lost on Sept. 11, 2001 and to remember those who are far from their families, often in harms way, because of the events that followed that tragic event.
Johnson was overjoyed by the response she got from her community people came from Middletown, Bethel, Youngsville, Fallsburg and Monticello to help the cause.
Weve had a wonderful turnout, she said. People have really been taking it to heart.
For people like Alice Coney of Monticello, it was a way to pour out of her heart and into the world.
Coneys son John is a career military man serving on the sandy battlefields of Iraq.
Although the war is officially over, casualties of American military men and women helping rebuild the country are up and Coney almost lost her son just months ago.
Sgt. Lingenfelter was walking out of the P/X when it was rocked by enemy fire.
Coney said her son was thrown as the building blew up he hit a wall and hurt his head and his leg.
Lingenfelter was taken out of Iraq for some R and R, then sent back to work.
Coney prays hell be allowed to come home in December.
For now, shes sending him letters and cards to let him know shes still rooting for him. And Saturday, she was doing something for another soldier someone who could be on the front lines with her own son.
He told me when I send him packages, a lot of soldiers get squat, so he shares, Coney said. Its just heartbreaking to think that someone doesnt get a card, a letter, something . . .
When Dolores Delgados son Joe was in Iraq, she made sure he wasnt one of those lonely soldiers.
She poured her love into every package, every letter.
And his actions tore her heart out the 21-year-old Sullivan West graduate re-enlisted while serving in the Middle East.
He was sworn in standing in the center of one of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Husseins palaces.
When Delgado expressed her worry, he told her to go watch Red Dawn and come back and talk to me.
The Bethel moms eyes teared up as she talked about her son Sgt. Joe Hernandez.
He said, I have a niece and nephew and sisters, and thats what were fighting for, Delgado recalled. Hes happy, and he believes in what hes fighting for Im very proud of him.
Seeing people here today, showing support . . . it touches my heart, she said. Thats somebodys son, somebodys brother over there.
Hernandez is going back either for six months in Afghanistan or a year in Iraq. Delgado knows he might get one of Operation Support Our Troops packages one day, she knows every ounce of love she put into working Saturday will be payed forward maybe to her own family.
Thats what Johnson hopes people understand about her cause: its about the people period.
Some of the folks who stopped by Saturday to lend a hand lifting boxes and packing candy, socks and soaps didnt have a personal story to tell.
But they felt this was the appropriate way to spend a national day of tragic memories.
Cindy Atkins heard about the event from her husband, a member of the Elks Lodge, just a day before it was scheduled. But Saturday morning, she was ready to do whatever she could to help.
It feels like the right thing to do, said the Monticello resident.
With the help of the community, Johnson shipped more than 60 boxes off to soldiers in the Middle East this weekend.
Shes planning another event for Veterans Day.
To help, call Johnson at 796-2339. Donations of goodies can be dropped at any branch of the First National Bank of Jeffersonville, Cobblestone Florist in Monticello or the Crawford Library in Monticello.
Donations made out to Operation Support Our Troops can be sent to Johnson at 279 Cantrell Road, Monticello, NY 12701 or deposited at any branch of the Jeff Bank.