As we look forward to what 2016 holds for Operation Lone Star – Texans Supporting Our Troops I also want to look back at 2015, our busiest, therefore our best and most satisfying, year to date. We visited with old friends, made many new friends, and accomplished more than in our previous eight years.
None of this would have been possible without our many supporters both within and outside of HPD. A thank you to those concerned Americans who stop by our booth at the various events we attend and purchase a cap, a t-shirt or a car magnet, or who make a donation with no expectation of anything more than a simple thank you.
Thank you to the following for cash and care package items donations: Conoco-Phillips; the staff, teachers and students in the Cy-Fair and Klein School Districts; retired HPD Lieutenant Nelson Zoch, The Carabiners and the congregation of Christ the King Church in Kingwood, the Giddings, Texas American Legion York Post 276 and Women’s Auxiliary as well as the Giddings Lions Club; retired HPD Sergeant Fred Walschberger and the members of the Airstream RV Club; and retired HPD Sergeant Phil Tippen for his generous monthly donation to Operation Lone Star – Texans Supporting Our Troops.
A special thank you to Captain Greg Fremin, Northeast Division, and HPOU President Ray Hunt, 1st Vice President Doug Griffin, members of the Executive Board, Board of Directors and the general membership of the Houston Police Officers Union for again choosing Operation Lone Star to be a recipient of part of the proceeds of the annual HPOU Stars and Stripes Charity Golf Tournament.
All of you, as well as our many unknown supporters, made it possible for us to send care packages to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and Sailors and Marines deployed aboard US Navy ships at sea. As we have done each year, packages are mailed quarterly and/or when we receive a request from deployed or about to be deployed military personnel or family members of those personnel.
You make it possible for us to visit wounded heroes in military or VA hospitals, to take them simple gifts that put smiles on their faces, and to provide comfort to those who have lost a loved one while deployed to a combat zone.
Without your support there would be no Operation Lone Star.
2015 was a busy year for us. We began on January 1st at the request of retired HPD Officer Homer Stevens, who lives in the Hill Country near San Antonio. He and his organization, Friends of Wounded Warriors, provided a barbeque dinner to wounded troops and their families at the Warrior and Family Support Center located on Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston.
He asked if we would attend and distribute our “Alamo” Challenge Coins to the wounded men and women in attendance. That was an easy, “Yes,” and we enjoyed our visits with these young Heroes.
The following week we assisted in the Christmas wreath pick-up at Houston National Cemetery which was preceded by the Wreaths Across America event in early December. Each year more wreaths are placed at Houston National than any other national cemetery in the country, including Arlington in the D.C. area.
February included an Iwo Jima Commemoration in which we had the honor and pleasure of meeting Mr. Earl Culmer, an Iwo Jima Marine veteran. Mr. Culmer had been befriended by North Division Officers Jimmy Conley, Kenneth Elliott, Eric May and Jake Simmerman, all former Marines, who provided transportation to the event. Unfortunately, Mr. Culmer passed away this past October.
A second Iwo Jima Commemoration was held aboard USS Texas the following afternoon. Several Iwo Jima veterans received medals for their participation in the battle for Iwo Jima in 1945. We had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with several of these gentlemen.
In March we manned our booth at the Tomball German Festival, followed by the HPOU Stars and Stripes Charity Golf Tournament in April. That is one of my favorite events because I have the opportunity to see many old HPD friends, and the support they show for Operation Lone Star and the troops we serve is outstanding.
May 9 we attended the 1st Annual Catfish Fundraiser in Willis, Texas, hosted by retired HPD Officers Tom and Debbie Logan, whose son, Marine Corporal Joey Logan died in a helicopter crash with five other Marines in Afghanistan January 19, 2012. The fundraiser benefitted the Red Lion Project, a retreat for physically and emotionally wounded Heroes which Tom and Debbie are building in Joey’s beloved Montana. It will have 6 cabins, each one named for one of The Fallen Six and will provide outdoor activities for its guests. We were honored to present a check for $1,000 to Tom and Debbie to go toward the costs of constructing this facility.
Mid-May brought us to George Bush Intercontinental Airport and the arrival of hundreds of Wounded Heroes from military medical facilities located all over the country. The show of support from Houstonians was almost overwhelming to our visitors who had no idea what awaited them in the baggage claim area: military and law enforcement color guards and hundreds of cheering citizens offering support, hugs and kisses.
The next day we drove to Port O’Connor where the Heroes had been bussed for fishing and barbeque. As they arrived at the docks hundreds more were there to greet the men and women who were transported there the night before in addition to those brought in that morning by bus from Fort Sam Houston and Fort Hood. It’s an amazing day and our most looked forward to event.
May 20 we placed over 600 small flags at the Fallen Warriors Memorial located on Cutten Road near Cypresswood in northwest Harris County. Each flag signifies a name on the Memorial Walls, which are dedicated to Texans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Memorial Day we attended the unveiling and dedication of “The Way Home” Memorial Monument in Tom Green Park in The Woodlands. The monument is modeled after two young men who were residents of The Woodlands, Army Corporal Cory C. Kosters who died in Iraq March 5, 2007 and Army Corporal Zach R. Endsley, who died in Afghanistan June 23, 2007 and is dedicated to all active-duty military personnel and veterans of all branches of the military.
It was a touching ceremony, after which we had the honor of meeting Corporal Koster’s mother and Corporal Endsley’s father. We gave each an Operation Lone Star “Alamo” challenge coin, which is inscribed with a depiction of the Alamo, and told them that as Texans remember the Alamo, we will always remember their sons.
Caps and Watermelon!
In June, at the invitation of the Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion / 23rd Marine Regiment, the Reserve unit located at Ellington Airport, we attended the Change of Command Ceremony. We were allowed to set up a table in order to make the Marine Reserve unit aware of our existence and to encourage them to contact us if we could be of assistance to them in any way. We met the incoming Commanding Officer who assured us he would be in contact with us.
Prior to the July 4th weekend we returned to the Fallen Warriors Memorial to place the 600-plus flags to honor the men and women whose names are inscribed on its walls.
We participated in The Woodlands Independence Day Parade, pulling a float that resembled a Texas flag with the US and military service flags proudly flying. A memorable moment occurred when a young man who appeared to be in his early 20’s and wearing an “Iraqi Freedom” cap stepped into the street, and reached out and gave me a firm handshake. As he glanced up at my USS RANGER cap with the Vietnam Service pin he said, “Thank you for your service, Sir. Welcome home.” I thanked him but otherwise was left speechless.
August took us to the annual Hempstead Watermelon Run for the Fallen, a 5k dedicated to recognizing the sacrifice of our military personnel who have been lost in our current wars. This event is hosted in the memory of SSgt Jeffery Lee Hartley, son of Hempstead Chief of Police David W. Hartley. SSgt Hartley died April 8, 2008 in Iraq when his vehicle encountered an improvised explosive device.
The annual Travis Manion 9/11 Heroes Run is held at Ellington Airport on or near September 11. The goal is to honor the heroes of September 11 and in the current wars as well as to recognize veterans, active-duty military personnel, first responders and civilians who step up when necessary. This event is held in cities all over the country and at military facilities all over the world.
In 2015 the Houston event, as in every time it has been held, raised more money and had more runners, participants and volunteers than any other in the world. This is also a favorite event because in addition to having a booth set up we participate in the run and I have the opportunity to see my HPD friends.
The weekend of September 20 found us manning our booth at the annual Houston Hot Sauce Festival in Stafford. Each year at the end of the event a vendor gives us several cases of hot sauce to place in the care packages.
October was a busy month. In addition to working the Huntsville Fair on the Square the first Saturday of the month we spent each Sunday morning at Christ the King Church in Kingwood receiving cash and care package items for their annual Operation Lone Star Care Package Drive.
November took us to one of our favorite events, the City of Houston’s Houston Salutes American Heroes Veterans Day Celebration and Parade. The parade was special for me this year because my son Jimmy, a Marine veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and my daughter Enid, an Army veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom were there to walk the parade route with me.
As in the past few years we built an Operation Lone Star parade float decorated with the American flag, the five service flags, a POW/MIA flag, a Don’t Tread on Me Flag, our Operation Lone Star flag and, new this year, a 50th Anniversary Vietnam War Commemoration flag.
Wreaths and Memories
In 2015 and 2016 the Department of Defense sponsored, and is sponsoring, nationwide events commemorating the beginning of the United States’ major involvement in the Vietnam War. The goal is to pay tribute to Vietnam veterans as well as recognize the military in general, regardless of where personnel were stationed at the time, to show appreciation for the support from families, military supporters, and our allies in the Vietnam War, and to recognize the advances in science and medicine as a result of that war.
As “Commemorative Partners” we special-ordered Operation Lone Star t-shirts inscribed with the 50th Anniversary logo. As we walked the parade route we gave a t-shirt to each man we recognized as a Vietnam veteran, either by the military or “Veteran” ball cap or t-shirt many wore or by the Vietnam-era uniforms some wore. It was extremely gratifying to see the expressions on their faces when they were approached by two young veterans who thanked them for their service and, in most cases, exchanged handshakes or salutes after receiving the t-shirts.
In early December, for the 3rd consecutive year we conducted our Operation Lone Star Christmas Wreath Ceremonies. We first went to Brookside Cemetery in far north Houston, where my father, a World War II veteran, is buried and we placed a wreath over his grave.
Then, as in the past two years, we picked a random section and looked for grave markers which designated graves as belonging to a veteran. We placed a total of 75 wreaths on veteran’s graves at Brookside.
We then proceeded to Rosewood Cemetery in Humble where a childhood friend is buried. Specialist 4th Class John Lee Dobroski was killed in Vietnam January 17, 1971. We placed a wreath on his grave then began our search for military veterans, placing another 75 wreaths on gravesites.
I previously mentioned the Fallen Warriors Memorial in which Texans killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are forever remembered. I have the honor and the privilege of being responsible for the US and military flags at that location. When we receive notice that a Texan has been killed I lower the flags to half-staff. I also turn on lights that illuminate three trees located behind the Memorial; one red, one white and one blue. The flags remain at half-staff and the lights on until the Fallen Warrior is returned to his home in Texas.
I had to perform these duties for Staff Sergeant Michael A. Cinco of Mercedes, Texas. He was one of 6 US Air Force personnel killed by a suicide bomber while on patrol in Afghanistan December 21, 2015.
In addition to the quarterly and as-needed or requested mail-outs, and the standard events and ceremonies we have plans to do more in 2016.
For quite some time we’ve been attempting to communicate with the Houston VA Hospital but due to government bureaucracy have been unsuccessful. Recently, however, a member of Christ the King Church in Kingwood contacted Vice President Judy Pierce and gave her the name of a potential contact there. Judy called the gentleman, explained who we are and what we do and have done, and told him we would like to do something for the patients at the hospital.
He agreed to work with us and advised Judy that they are in need of blankets, robes, socks and other items for their patients. She explained that we could easily take care of those needs.
We will be meeting soon to make plans and confirm a date for the donation of these and other items. Judy advised the contact that we would not donate items to the hospital but to the individual veterans, and that these items would belong to them and would be taken with them when and if they are released from the hospital. The contact agreed and is going to allow us to visit individual patient rooms so that we may provide the patients with the items.
Looking to ‘16
We will also provide Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops / Vietnam War Commemoration t-shirts to Vietnam veterans we encounter at the VA Hospital, whether they are on an in-patient or out-patient basis.
2015 was an exciting and gratifying year for Operation Lone Star-Texans Supporting Our Troops. We’re looking forward to getting to work in 2016. If you have loved ones or friends who are currently deployed, please contact us at OperationLoneStar@hotmail.com and we will add them to our care package list.
On behalf of Vice President Judy Pierce, Secretary/Treasurer Sandy Alexander and, most importantly, the troops we serve, I want to thank you for your continued support.
God bless our troops and God bless America.