BARBERTON, Ohio ― Tom Stiles’ heart ached when his son and best buddy, Joshua, left for the U.S. Navy just before Christmas last year. While he was a proud papa, he knew he would miss him terribly. So Tom found therapy in writing cards to our servicemen and women ― thousands of them.
Sitting in the lobby of Summa Barberton Hospital, where Tom is a surgical assistant, is a small table with a selection of Christmas cards, pens and a sign that reads “Stiles Salutes Our Military Troops.”
The table is placed beneath the hospital’s Wall of Courage ― a display of photos of hospital relatives who are in the military. Anyone is welcome to fill out a card. As for Tom, he pens a message inside 10 to 15 cards daily.
“Merry Christmas, Happy New Year. May God bless you and watch over you and your team. Thank you for all that you do to keep us safe and free. Thank you for your time, your service, and your sacrifices.
“... You are all American heroes to us. You may be far from your home, but you are never far from our hearts and our prayers.
“Love and respect,
“I would love to ... tell them in person,” said Tom, whose 20-year-old son is currently serving as a seaman apprentice on the USS Abraham Lincoln in Norfolk, Virginia.
Tom Stiles, a surgical assistant at Summa Barberton Hospital, talks about his effort to send holiday cards to those in military service overseas as he stands next to a table he set up for people to write cards to members of the military at the entrance of the hospital in Barberton, Ohio on Nov. 19. (Akron Beacon Journal/TNS)
The idea took off after Tom spotted another group on the Internet that was doing something similar. Excited, he went shopping to look for cards and discovered some made in the USA by Fantus Paper Products. A perfect match, he reasoned, for saluting our soldiers.
Last year he filled 2,000 cards with his special message. After Christmas, he called the company to see if they could cut him a break on the cost of the cards for this year. Impressed with Tom’s project, Fantus agreed to give him the cards, provided he paid for the shipping to his home.
Tom works on the cards, which are addressed to “any service member” and sent to military serving overseas, each day of the year. Next year, he expects to write nearly 5,000 himself. And others have begun to lend a helping hand, including at least one church and students at Green and Norton schools. He’s also received signed cards from celebrities like Chuck Norris, Ted Nugent, Jeff Foxworthy, Donald Trump, Judge Jeanine Pirro, former Cavalier Larry Nance and more.
Tom takes care of the postage, which is about $16 to mail 800 cards in flat rate boxes ― well, on most days.
During a recent visit to the Barberton post office, a man who was working there asked Tom about the cards. When he explained, the man leaned over the counter and shook his hand.
“You are done,” he told Tom.
“But I haven’t paid you,” he answered.
“Looks like zero to me,” the man said, reaching for his wallet and removing the money needed to pay for Tom’s shipment.
When I contacted the post office, the humble employee asked that his name not be used.
“I’m not over there fighting for our country,” he said. “I just wanted to do my part.”
And that small gesture meant the world to Tom.
“It’s not about the money. It’s about what he did and why. That is so incredible to me,” he said, blinking away the tears in his eyes. “You see, my ultimate goal is for my son to call me one day and tell me he got one of my cards.”
By Kim Hone-Mcmahan
(Akron Beacon Journal (TNS))
(Tribune Content Agency)