For George Galasso, opening the Washington Post to a two-page spread with photos of the young people killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has become a defining moment.
"My heart breaks when I see it," said Galasso, a Korean War veteran. "Not only because these young people are being maimed and killed. I don't think they feel an appreciation for what they do. I think the least we can do is take the time to write a letter to tell them they're appreciated."
Galasso decided to do just that. Then he decided to do one better. Twice over the past two months he has met with other seniors at the Rockville Senior Center to write letters to the troops.
When he started the letter-writing campaign, Galasso contacted the United Service Organizations.
"The USO is very happy to receive letters such as these," he said. "They screen them. And as they accumulate, I send the letters to the USO. They in turn send packages [to the troops] and will include a letter with each package they send."
There's a box for the letters at the senior center. Until now the letters have all been written by seniors at the center. But Galasso hopes that as more people learn of the campaign, more people will take the time to write letters and drop them in the box or mail them to the center.
"We started slow but hopefully we'll pick up as more people learn about it," he said.
As a teenager during World War II, it was very different, Galasso recalled.
"Everyone was behind it," he said. "There was such spirit. There were banners and a star in the window for the number of young men from that family who were serving. Unfortunately there were gold stars for those who were killed."
The entire nation was involved, he said. "There were tinfoil collections, victory gardens, scrap metal collections, savings bonds. Everyone participated. There's been apathy and opposition to all subsequent conflicts.
"It doesn't take much time to write a letter," Galasso said. "Regardless of how we feel about these conflicts, these young people who are our children and grandchildren should hear from us how grateful and proud we are of them."
The USO has simple guidelines for the letters. They should not mention specific holidays, for instance, because there's no guarantee of when the letter will reach the recipient. The letters should be upbeat and not addressed to a specific branch of the service.
To receive the USO guidelines and sample letters, send an email request to Terri Hilton, senior services manager at the senior center, at email@example.com. Letters can be dropped by the center or mailed to: Letters to Troops, Rockville Senior Center, 1150 Carnation Drive, Rockville, MD 20850.