Military and Police

98 Year Old Grandmother Handwrites 7,000 Letters to Troops

“I’ve decided I’m going to write as long as I can.”

Perhaps you have been one of those lucky enough to have received a letter from Alleen Cooper while deployed. On a mission to send letters to military members overseas, with nearly 7,000 in the past six years, this grandmother is not about to stop.

Alleen Cooper has spent years honoring the heroes overseas by sending them handwritten letters. She started writing to service members sometime after WWII. She also wrote to her son while he served in Vietnam. Soon, she began sending letters to other troops in Vietnam, and she hasn’t stopped. They’ve gone to soldiers in all situations, whether they are in harm’s way or the wounded in hospitals.

Matching each soldier’s bravery with her personal dedication, Alleen makes sure each of the letters is about four pages long, and that they’re all unique in their own way. For those of you who like numbers, that’s 28,000 pages of thoughtful, individualized writing in the past six years.

In this age of communication technology with its myriad of tech toys and gadgets, when was the last time you received a handwritten letter? Or when was the last time you sat down at your desk or kitchen table and wrote a handwritten letter? Is the art of writing and sending letters dead? For Alleen, it’s very much alive and well. What she is serving up at her kitchen table is comfort food for soldier’s souls, and they can’t seem to get enough.

“I’ve decided I’m going to write as long as I can,” she recently told Inside Edition, in a viral video that’s now melting the Internet’s heart. In the video, she shows one letter where she even drops a “TTYL” at the end. It’s “short for ‘talk to you later,” she explains.

She first wrote Staff Sergeant Chris Cantos, who just recently connected with her in person, years ago when he was in a remote area of Afghanistan with no wireless internet. The only contact that the Marines there had with home was letters. He says her notes were a bright spot amid the darkness. “She would always send us clippings and jokes. She would tell us about her day,” Cantos said.

In return, Alleen also collected a lot of mementos and gifts over the years from the many soldiers she’s written — all as a thank you for her service.

These days her hands get tired quicker, but this grandmother to the troops said that her mission is far from over.

Mail Call – Everyone Waits for Their Name to be Called

When my husband was in U.S. Army basic training (about 100 years ago!), we wrote letters back and forth. My letters to him were much longer, but at least he managed to get some time to write a few quick lines in return. Those letters were a connection to home and a connection to one another.

I remember one particular letter when he wrote, “Mail call is everyone’s favorite time of day, except for the days when they don’t get the mail.” In that same letter, he said one of the other men in his platoon at basic training had not received any mail at all. That young man had never received even one letter from home. Each day when the Drill Instructor would pass out the letters this one young man slowly went back to his room depressed and empty handed. He was in a low, low place and ready to give up, or worse, hurt himself.

My husband, the oldest in the platoon of trainees, was the unofficial father figure to many of these young men. He saw what was happening and how this man was spiraling deeper and deeper into the darkness. My husband wrote to me and asked if I would write letters to the young man as well, keeping them bright and encouraging.

When the first letter arrived addressed to this young man, the Drill Instructor looked at the letter and noticed the return address was mine, and not from the man’s parents. He immediately asked my husband what was going on. After a little explanation from my husband, the Drill Instructor said they had never had that happen before, a married trainee asking his wife to write letters to another trainee, but to keep them coming.

I did, and this young man wrote back. So for the duration of basic training, we exchanged several letters. At mail call, his face lit up when his name was called. He no longer dreaded that part of the day; he now looked forward to it. My husband said he read and re-read those letters over and over, he told me how his mood brightened, and how they got the young man through.

I can’t emphasize enough how much hearing from home helps – care packages, funny cards, and a letter – a handwritten letter. Letters are a real physical connection to home. They don’t require an electronic gadget to read, batteries, or power. They still are just as good as new when they are dirty, damp, and wrinkled. They are shoved into wallets and pockets. They are carried in rucksacks and plate carriers, and they are cherished, each and every one.

It is so important to the troops to know that someone at home cares. It is an extraordinary thing that someone took the time to sit down and write a letter. In this day and age of Skype, Facebook, and Twitter, many ask if a simple piece of paper with words is still needed or wanted. Just ask Alleen Cooper, she knows.

Dr. Katherine Harris

Dr. Katherine (Kat) Harris is an OpsLens contributor, a veteran spouse, expat, and former military contractor with over 20 years of expertise in military/family transition, career counseling, higher education, organizational strategic planning, and international relations. She has conducted seminars and workshops for many Department of Army commands, plus many non-profit and community associations. She served as a translator and liaison for American, British, French, and German civilian/military communities in Berlin and Helmstedt, Germany. Academically, Dr. Harris holds a Bachelor of Science in Management Studies from The University of Maryland European Division, a Master of Arts in International Relations from Boston University, and a Doctorate in Education from Rowan University with an emphasis in leadership and higher education in a global context.

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