Memorial Day, as the name indicates, is a time for remembering. Originally, the day was to honor Civil War dead. Then, after World War I, it was meant as a time to honor all soldiers who died in any war, and was Decoration Day. Then, it became a time to honor all of our dead, whether veterans or not, and known as Memorial Day.

It has been an official holiday in the U.S. since 1971, and I think it is evolving again, this time into a day to honor all veterans, not just ones who have died. And I believe it is a process, not an event. It is not just a day on which we do that - and then forget about them the rest of the year - but a day to remind us that we need to honor our veterans and active duty military personnel all year long.

There is a pretty easy way to do that. Most veterans' organizations, such as the American Legion and the VFW, have a program to periodically send what I call "care" packages to active duty military personnel from its own area. Here, around Lanesboro, we have 16 young men and women currently serving, and I know they appreciate getting mail and these packages.

Some people may remember care packages from the years after World War II. According to Wikipedia, the CARE program was started in 1945 by an organization of the same name, an acronym for Cooperative for American Remittances to Europe. That organization wanted to send relief to Europe because of the large numbers of people who were at risk of starvation in the wake of World War II. CARE got permission from the U.S. government to send surplus U.S. Army "10-in-1" food parcels to Europe. These packages had been prepared for an invasion of Japan, which did not happen, so the parcels were not used.

Americans were given the opportunity to purchase a CARE package of $10, to send to friends or relatives in Europe. The boxes were guaranteed to arrive within four months. If the donor did not have a current address for the recipient, CARE would find the person using the last known address; CARE became a sort of "missing person" service in the chaos that was Europe after the war.

The original CARE packages included one pound beef in broth, one pound steak and kidneys, eight ounce liver loaf, eight ounce corned beef, 12 ounces of luncheon loaf such as Spam, 8 ounces of bacon, two pounds of margarine, one pound of lard, one pound fruit preserves, one pound of honey, one pound of raisins, one pound of chocolate, two pounds of sugar, eight ounces egg powder, two pounds whole-milk powder and two pounds coffee.

I added up all that and each package's contents came to 17 pounds, 12 ounces, and must have been a good-sized box, larger than a large flat-rate one today. Later care packages included food for different cultural diets, and also non-food items such as tools, blankets, school supplies and medicines.

The first CARE packages arrived at port in France on May 11, 1946. The program continued for the next 20 years and over 100 million packages were delivered. At first they went only to Europe; later Asia was included, and then other developing parts of the world.

Initially, the recipients were named by the package's donor, but as the program spread, the packages were sent to target areas instead of specific people. About 500,000 were sent to East Berlin during the Berlin Airlift. There is now a CARE package on display in the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.

Care packages have taken on new meaning and uses over the years. When my former spouse and I were struggling to get him through college, we would often visit my parents on the weekends, then in Red Wing. Every week, before we left to return to the Twin Cities, my mother would pack what we lovingly called this week's care package. She always included fresh homemade bread, some meat from the freezer and whatever else she had on hand that would be helpful. My father, not to be outdone, would find something we might need for the car such as extra oil (after he had changed the oil if it was time), or anything else that might be handy in our low-budget lifestyle.

Now there are places that sell and send care packages in the whole range of price and style; the term CARE package was copyrighted by the original CARE organization.

My parents did this to show that they cared. Care packages to our troops demonstrate that we care. It is that simple. I can't think of a better way to make Memorial Day part of this ongoing process: show that we do appreciate what our military does for our country and for us.

How to add your caring to care packages

In Lanesboro, items to be included in the regularly scheduled mailings can be dropped off at the American Legion (clearly marked "For troops"). Getting children involved in this activity is a good way to help them learn about what our military volunteers do for us, and to learn to show respect and honor for their service.

In lieu of dropping off items, money can also be donated and volunteers will do the shopping for you!

What to send

Food and Snacks

Coffee, Domino sugar bags, Splenda and Equal, Coffeemate, Lipton Tea 2 Go or Crystal Light in tubes, Ramen noodles (chicken preferred), beef jerky, Slim Jims, trail mix, power bars, cashews and fancy nuts, microwave popcorn, mac and cheese, tuna meals (in packs or cans), protein bar (low fat and low calorie), jelly beans, candy, bubble gum, crackers (Ritz, Triscuit, etc.), cookies, Pringles and Goldfish crackers.

Personal Care Items

Baby powder (cornstarch, non-scented), disposable razors, Vaseline lip balm, Vaseline lotions, foot powder - anti-fungal (non-aerosol), Q-tips, baby wipes, band-aids, hand lotion, Advil, Tylenol, sunscreen (non-greasy, please), bug repellant, tissues in packs, toothpaste, toothbrushes and small shaving gel (no aerosols).

For Female Soldiers

Kotex ultra-thin maxi-pads w/wings, facial cleansers, liquid body soap, feminine body wash, hair ties (black, brown, tan), body lotion, disposable razors or replacement blades for some of the commonly sold razors, shaving cream (gel only), Nair, deodorant, sports bras, hairpins, manicure sets (nail clippers, nail files, cuticle clippers, etc.), toothpaste, mouthwash, toothbrushes, floss, female magazines and Crystal Light (peach tea).


Xbox 360 games (new or excellent condition), disposable video cameras, disposable regular cameras, dry erase markers for hospitals, Sharpies (any colors), small flashlights, magazines (no political ones), AA and AAA batteries, white athletic socks, loose fitting lounge pants or shorts, books on CDs for visually impaired in hospital, music CDs, DVDs, playing cards, small electronic games, Sudoku games and paperbacks, dice, cards and puzzle books.

Do Not Send

Do not send aerosols of any kind, no used items, no outdated items and no giant-sized items.