World War II veteran John Kenny still remembers what it was like serving as an infantryman in the Pacific — the disease, the lack of showers, not knowing whether he would survive to return to the comforts of life at home.
Kenny, 85, of Bothell, had a quick response when asked what he missed the most during his time in combat.
"Just about everything—because you had nothing," he said.
Six years ago, Kenny decided to help provide some basic comforts to front-line troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Since then, he and an expansive team of volunteers from all over the Eastside have gathered twice a month at VFW post #2995 in Redmond to pack and ship boxes full of junk food, hygiene items and other personal comforts to the Middle East.
On Thursday evening, about 100 people were at the post to pack and ship their 10,000th box. The milestone marked a total donation of $500,000 in merchandise and $105,000 in postage. All of the snacks and other items items that go into the boxes have been donated by shoppers at local grocery stores.
Kirkland resident Linda Clanin-Swanberg, mother of Marine Lance Cpl. Shane Clanin-Swanberg, has helped with the packing and shipping from time to time since her son was killed in Iraq in 2005.
"I wanted to do something to help out," she said of the support box effort. "Ever since Shane died, I wanted to help the ones that are still over there."
Clanin-Swanberg was joined by Robyn White in packing boxes 10,000 and 10,001 on Thursday. White's son, Spc. Joseph V. White of Bellevue, was killed in Afghanistan in 2009.
Kenny and other support box organizers said their effort has always focused on getting supplies to front-line troops, who often go without basic necessities such as fresh socks or nail clippers. One of the boxes packed Thursday will be going to Sgt. Jonathan Park of Issaquah, who is serving his second tour in Afghanistan after already completing two tours in Iraq.
His parents, Dave and Georgeanne Park, have been involved with the VFW project ever since Georgeanne found out about the effort through a mothers' support group. She said service members like her son are always grateful to receive reminders of home.
"(They're) thankful ... knowing people are thinking of them in their thoughts and prayers," she said.
Despite his own service, Kenny said he is especially grateful to those who have served or are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. Back in World War II, troops had a clear vision of why they were fighting and a homefront that was solidly behind their efforts, he said.
Now, he said, things aren't so simple.
"These guys are truly the American heroes," Kenny said. "You get a special feeling when the postman picks up those boxes and you know the next stop is Afghanistan."