The song made popular by Perry Como tells us that “there’s no place like home for the holidays.” Hadley Johnson, bookseller and impromptu hostess of Cornerstone Books’ fundraising event for Danvers-based Operation Troop Support last Saturday afternoon, knows this lyrical concept all too well.
The song made popular by Perry Como tells us that “there’s no place like home for the holidays.”
Hadley Johnson, bookseller and impromptu hostess of Cornerstone Books’ fundraising event for Operation Troop Support last Saturday afternoon, knows this lyrical concept all too well.
Drawing from her own experience — her husband Christopher was stationed away from home for a total of 3 1/2 years in Okinawa, Japan, spending seven months of that time in Iraq — Johnson can empathize with the emotional hardship of soldiers overseas and their families at home that they face particularly during the holiday season.
The Cornerstone Books event, aptly named “Not Home for the Holidays,” was created to direct awareness of these difficulties and to spread the message for Operation Troop Support’s efforts to maintain contact with soldiers from across the globe.
Johnson can still readily recall that heartache of Christopher’s absence.
“It was really hard,” Johnson said with a sigh. “I only got through it with support and this book by Kristin Henderson called ‘While They Were at War.’” Henderson’s book documents the lives of American families as they try to maintain and many times rebuild the relationships with loved ones who have been deployed overseas.
It was through this book that Johnson got through her husband’s deployment and it is through books like it that Johnson hopes to share with others that same experience. She came up with the idea for “Not Home for the Holidays” to include local writers, photographers and servicemen and women to share in their personal experiences with the wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the difficulties that face a soldier’s return to the United States.
At 2 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 19, as the North Shore braced for the coming snow, Cornerstone Books opened its doors for the event. Johnson laughed, “I was a little worried, when people hear about accumulation, they go out thinking, ‘milk, bread, Christmas presents…’ I wasn’t sure that ‘fundraiser’ would be on their to-do list today. But it was a great turnout.”
Attendees were greeted by a warm fire, plenty of refreshments and a donations table for the Operation Troop Support (OTS).
The panel began with Dick Moody from OTS, a nonprofit organization based in Danvers that he runs with his wife Christine. OTS helps everyday people to maintain contact with the troops overseas as well as in American military hospitals in the form of weekly care packages and holiday gifts. The husband and wife team began in 2003 by supplying their two children, who were then on active duty, with small mailings of both basic necessities and little treats.
As Moody quipped, “We just forgot to stop doing it.”
These days, the weekly care packages, collected through item drives as well as cash donations, reach more than 150 to 200 troops and are mailed out every Friday night to the tune of $1,000 dollars in postage, also thankfully covered by donations.
“People are really wonderful,” Moody said. “In addition, this year we sent out 22,000 Christmas gifts. It cost us about $40,000 in postage but that too was covered by our donors’ generosity.”
Next was University of Rochester and New York University professor Barry Goldstein who had driven from North Adams, Mass., to present his book of candid photographs and unsupervised interviews of the Sledgehammer Brigade of Company 269 called “Gray Land: Soldiers on War.”
Although not a soldier himself or “even a war correspondent,” Goldstein explained, “I wanted to let people like me, who knew very little about the military, learn more about the people that we were putting into harm’s way.”
Goldstein’s presentation included slides of the soldiers he photographed along with the audio from the actual interviews he then transcribed for his book.
Salisbury resident Frank Schaeffer — an author, film director, screenwriter and public speaker — then openly discussed his own internal conflict, acceptance and resulting respect for his son’s decision to join the Marines. His gamut of emotions are explored in several of his fiction and nonfiction books, including “Keeping Faith: A Father-Son Story About Love and the U.S. Marine Corps” and “Faith of Our Sons: Voices From the American Homefront — The Wartime Diary of a Marine’s Father.”
“It is really documenting my own journey, as far as attitudes,” Schaeffer said. But it was his articles in the Washington Post about being a military parent that seemed to strike a vein with the American public.
“I received a lot of e-mails from people who admitted that no one was telling ‘our story’ — what military families were experiencing seemed like a completely different universe than the life that their neighbors were experiencing,” he said.
An Air Force aircrew weapons controller turned novelist, Massachusetts native and New Hampshire resident Kim Ponders then read from her first novel, “The Art of Uncontrolled Flight,” released in 2005. Her soothing voice recalled a unit’s night spent stranded in Turkey during the first Gulf War, and one character’s subsequent return to the Iraq in the current conflict. The reading takes a thoughtful turn when the character, in response to the death of an innocent translator at the hands of a fellow soldier, then wonders “…what happens to the stories that never get told…?”
It leaves the listener wondering how many of those life-changing human stories are never heard over the larger noise of politics and economics.
The war at home
The Boston Globe’s Brian MacQuarrie was the final presenter before the question-and-answer session and book-signing. MacQuarrie, apologizing for “his bit of a stutter,” told of his connection to the same regiment that Goldstein had photographed.
MacQuarrie, who before Sept. 11, 2001, had been a general reporter for the Globe, “someone whose career up to that point had been knocking on doors of people who had been victims of horrible tragedies” rode into Manhattan on that fateful day with a rescue team that would prove to be the first on the scene from outside of New York.
“I became a war journalist almost by default,” he said. MacQuarrie spent the following three weeks in New York. The next year he spent months in Afghanistan, the following, in Pakistan.
Embedded in that Sledgehammer Brigade, reporting on the daily events of what the soldiers were enduring, MacQuarrie found his required objectivity difficult to maintain.
“It was their courage, their simplicity in their sense of duty,” MacQuarrie said.
MacQuarrie’s other sentiments were echoed by Moody and Schaeffer: “There is a war, two wars going on, but we just don’t seem to feel it at home.”
Moody concluded with the importance of maintaining awareness of the soldiers abroad as well as the sacrifice that the families are making at home.
The Q-and-A session focused on the health and wellbeing of returning soldiers. Cayenne Isaksen, of the state Department of Veterans’ Services and also the wife of a soldier, was in attendance and assured everyone about the commitment Massachusetts has made to its returning soldiers and their families, “through employment and training as well as counseling and educational resources.”
She added, “Also, let us know if you know of someone coming home: Give their names to the veterans’ service officers, they will help.”
The evening concluded with a book-signing, authors and patrons milling about, Schaeffer hurrying to “go fill the meter,” and Moody reminding everyone that they can make a difference in a soldier’s day, holiday, or even their entire tour of duty by just acknowledging their sacrifice.
“You couldn’t even imagine how much power a card or a thank-you note can give to a soldier,” Moody said.
Johnson, with her own husband finally home for the holidays, organized an event that reminded everyone of those brave men and women who would gladly come back home once their duty has been done, to celebrate, to share in the warmth of the holiday or even to just help shovel out the driveway.
Contact Sarah Phelan at email@example.com.
Helping the troops, and troops getting help
To donate to Operation Troop Support, to request a care package for a soldier at war, or to attend a support meeting for soldiers and their families, contact Richard and Christine Moody at 16 Trinity St. in Danvers, Mass., 01923, or call 978-774-5983 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations are also accepted online at troopsupportusa.com.
To get information on veterans services from the commonwealth of Massachusetts, visit mass.gov/veterans.
For more about the books and authors featured during the “Not Home for the Holidays” presentation, visit Cornerstone Books at 45 Lafayette St. in Salem, call 978-744-1831 or go to their web site, cornerstonebooks-salem.com.