Woman’s missives score direct hit with U.S. troops
Post Independent Staff
Cathy Meskel has received dozens of letters from military troops in the Middle East, and many include the same comment.
“All they see is the negativity, and the anti-war protests,” Meskel said from her small pet store in Rifle. “It doesn’t matter how you feel about the war, there are troops over there fighting for our country and laying down their lives. We need to let them know we’re thinking about them.”
Meskel does a lot of her thinking in the sunny, southwest corner of her store, Nola’s Ark, 100 E. 11th St.
At a tiny table, she packages a letter, the Spiritual Armor Prayer, a St. Michael’s medal and a small American flag into individual envelope.
The cloth flags measure 9 inches by 12 inches, are folded military style into triangles, and can easily be slipped into a shirt.
Those envelopes go into a package of 100, which Meskel mails to soldiers in the Middle East on a list she got from a military official in Washington, D.C. From there, the package recipients distribute the letters to other soldiers, often those who don’t receive much mail.
One Marine wrote back, “I got tingles when the medal fell out of the envelope. I’ve always wanted a St. Michael’s medal around my neck, but never purchased one because it means more if gotten as a gift.”
Monday afternoon, Meskel opened the blue notebook where she keeps the response letters and said, “This little book is like gold … I sit here and look at it.”
Meskel and her family have sent 15 packages of letters since January – about 1,500 in all. Her letter to the troops is addressed to “Our American Soldier,” and begins “It is with thanks, gratitude and honor that this letter comes to you, from my family.”
The letter introduces the Meskel family: husband Michael, 19-year-old son Timothy, and 14-year-old daughter Mandi. The letter concludes with an invitation to write back, and adds, “God bless you and always know that there is someone praying for you.”
The dozens of replies Meskel keeps in her blue notebook are hand written, computer generated or typed, and responses have come from enlisted men and women to colonels and commanding officers.
A commanding officer with the Marine Heavy Helicopters Squadron 464 wrote, “In the midst of this storm where many around the world seem to have negative public opinions about our nation’s position, your single, silent gesture of support and belief in what we are doing to preserve freedom for all is an infusion of strength which renews our resolve and reminds us of the importance of why we have pledged our lives in defense of our way of life.”
A lieutenant colonel with the 464th Squadron wrote, “We get inundated with the news about protest and the lack of support for this conflict. This one box and your caring makes the family separation and negativity we receive worth the sacrifice.”
“I will put the American flag that is perfectly folded in my flight vest, as it will carry us to the just conclusion of this conflict,” he added.
One of Meskel’s flags was reported on a national news broadcast. The flag rested on the chest of an injured soldier, Ed Torres, and Meskel remembered the name when newswoman Diane Sawyer interviewed him.
“I was drinking coffee when I saw it, and thought `My gosh. That’s one of my soldiers.'” Meskel’s voice cracked, but she continued. “He’s going to be okay … he carries that flag.”
While Meskel was relating her story, a cockatoo named Abby waddled over. Meskel reached down, let Abby perch on her finger, and took her back to the roost.
Meskel said she wore a Vietnam prisoner of war bracelet as a teenager. She sent letters to the troops 12 years ago during the Gulf War. After the Sept. 11 attacks, she organized a march and prayer vigil at the Rifle Fairgrounds.
“I’ve always done this,” Meskel said.
Sending out letters can be an assembly line process when the action shifts from Nola’s Ark to the Meskel home.
“Last week, Tim folded the letters, I put them in, and Mandi put in the medals,” Meskel said. “My husband tells me, `Keep on going.'”
The going isn’t cheap. It costs $75 for 500 St. Michael’s medals and prayer cards, plus $10 in postage for each package of 100 letters sent overseas. Swallow Oil contributed stationery and the use of a letter folder.
“That helped a lot,” Meskel said.
A fellow parishioner at St. Mary’s Catholic Church of Rifle donated $100 one Sunday. Meskel said she thought she was receiving $20. “When I opened the envelope and I saw it was $100, I went, `Oh my gosh, that’s so much.’ I started to cry, but she said, `I can do it. Please accept it.'”
Meskel said the flow of letters back to Rifle has slowed since combat began, but her goal is still to send out 1,500 letters per month.
“I know there is support for the troops, but we need to be a little more aggressive in showing we care, regardless of where you stand on the war,” she added.
Contact Lynn Burton: 945-8515, ext. 534
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