Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Web's web
A St. Joseph Marine mom helps link people around the country

By Kristen Hare

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The six young men stood alone.

At ease.

Without their families.

Gretchen Miller saw them at a Marine boot camp graduation in San Diego. She’d traveled there to work on a Web site.

Eight months earlier, she watched her daughter graduate from the Marine boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. She knew then the necessity of family support for her daughter and other Marines.

But in San Diego, she saw the young men.

All alone.

“Congratulations, Marine,” she remembers saying six times, shaking six hands.

She asked to take their picture.

And soon, through her travels, she noticed more graduates without their families.

So, one year ago, the mother from St. Joseph started something.

Using her talents as a Web developer, Gretchen began a Web site to raise funds for Marines whose families couldn’t afford to make it to boot camp graduation.

And in the process, she has connected people from around the country.

Those who give.

Those who receive.

Either way, they’re all linked.

A web of families joined by a mother in St. Joseph who didn’t want Marines to stand alone.


“Dear Gretchen,” the letter begins, “this is a good thing you’re doing for Marines. I am a Gold Star Marine mom.”

Jody Davids, of Dublin, Ohio, watched her son graduate from Parris Island.

It was December.


Jody peered through binoculars looking for her son.

She didn’t recognize him.

He was transformed.

It was a moment made all the more precious by those that followed.

“My son, Wes, was killed 5-11-05 in Iraq,” Jody writes.

The day after he turned 20.

At his funeral, Wes’ friend, Andrew, came from California. He was so impacted by what he saw, Jody says, that he went home and joined the Marines. His mom told Jody about the graduation fund through an e-mail.

“... Anyway, Andrew is graduating from boot camp this week,” Jody wrote in her letter to Gretchen. “We’ll be there. Hopefully this donation will help another mom to be there as well.”

She included $100.

She hasn’t thought of the donation much.

But since her son’s death, Jody’s continually surprised by people’s generosity.

Their kindness.

How much they want to help.


Once each month, the Marine sends a money order.

Usually, for $25.

It’s small, but it’s something.

Don Adams, of Savannah, Ga., remembers his own graduation from Parris Island. It was a warm October day in 1972.


He didn’t think he’d live through boot camp.

Don’s family came.

They didn’t recognize him.

Years later, from the bleachers, Don watched his son officially become a Marine.

And though it was a hot August day, the sight gave him goosebumps.

When he talks about it, Don pauses frequently while tears pass.

His feelings are mixed, what with the times we live in.

But when he read about the graduation foundation online, he gave what he could -- money, airline miles, a ride from the airport.

And now, every month, a mother in St. Joseph gets a money order from a Marine in Savannah.


He promised.

If George R. Alm made it through boot camp, George B. Alm, his father, promised that his family would be there. Then, George B. lost his job. They’d saved $100 for gas, thinking the whole family would drive from their home in Tacoma, Wash., to San Diego.

But without the money from his income, George knew he couldn’t go. He e-mailed his disappointment to another Marine parent he’d met online.

He dreaded telling his son.

But that parent told George about a place he might find help.

George stayed quiet.

Didn’t want to get any hopes up.

Then, 10 days before his son would become a Marine, George heard Gretchen’s voice on the other end of his phone.

“ ... It was truly a moment in our lives we will never forget and cherish forever. Thank you once again for making this possible,” George wrote Gretchen.

He stood in the bleachers that perfect and clear Thursday, watching his son become a Marine.

He cried until the steps disappeared through his tears.

“... we are going to cherish this forever,” George wrote. “God Bless.”

When he finds work again, George will send money to the fund, he says. Help another family see what he saw.

And with his letter, he included three photos.

There’s George with his son.

There’s George, his wife and their Marine.

And at the bottom of the stack is a photo with that perfect blue sky so many remember. The flag flaps in the breeze. Palm trees sprout their green leaves upward.

And a group of young men in neat khaki shirts stand, like they did in the photo Gretchen took.

Except in this one — thanks to a web of people — family members were behind the camera.

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