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GAIL WHITE Marines get valentines filled with gratitude



Published: Sun, February 16, 2003 @ 12:00 a.m.



Love is in the air today as couples across the Valley celebrate Valentine's Day.

For some heartstruck lovers, however, it's a bittersweet day this year as hundreds of men and women have been deployed to the far reaches of the Earth serving our country in the armed forces.

Melissa McCormick of Canfield knows the pangs of missing her heartthrob today. But thanks to her sister, Brittany, and the Juniorettes at Canfield High School, Melissa's beau and his entire Marine platoon will be receiving heartfelt greetings this Valentine's Day.

Melissa is 19 and a student at YSU. One year and two months ago (she spared me the day and hour count, though I am certain she has it calculated), Melissa fell in love with a handsome young man, Jim Campana, 23, of Struthers.

Talking with Melissa, I am taken back to those tender years when love is fresh and new and dramatic. When I asked her to describe Jim, she giggled and fumbled through her thoughts. Later in our conversation, the words came flowing out in the most sincere, lovely fashion.

"He's so smart. He should be a doctor," she says with sweet innocence. "He's like a genius."

Last spring, Jim joined the Marines. In May, he left for boot camp. Melissa wrote to him every day.

"Everybody thinks it's so hard to write a letter, but I can write five pages a day," she says. "I could like never stop writing."

13 weeks apart

At one point, Jim was sent to North Carolina for weapons training. Melissa could not write or speak to him for 13 weeks. (When she says "13 weeks" it sounds as if it she is talking about years.)

"He got a perfect score on the rifle range and won a phone call," Melissa remembers the agonizing period. "We got to talk for two minutes." (She says "two minutes" as if it were hours or maybe even days.)

Jim's platoon is now stationed in Hawaii. Though the two lovebirds talk on the phone often, Melissa still sends letters to her soldier.

"They love to get mail," Brittany McCormick explains. A ninth-grader at Canfield High School, Brittany has watched her older sister go through the emotional ups and downs of this thing called love.

Though Brittany knows that Jim's mail call will be heart-filled today, she began to wonder about the rest of the 1/3 Bravo Company Weapons Platoon.

As president of the Canfield Juniorettes Club, she presented her idea to the group.

"I thought we could send them valentines to let them know we appreciate what they are doing for our country," Brittany explains.

With the help of Jim, the group obtained the names of the 38 soldiers in his platoon.

"He gave me the names and then called the next morning with two more names. He wanted everybody to get a card," Melissa recalls.

Flurry of creativity

With names in hand, the Juniorettes went to work. Using construction paper, markers, stamps, stickers and paper doilies, the girls created beautiful masterpieces overflowing with hearts.

Yet, it is in the words of these teenagers that the true beauty of the cards is revealed.

After greeting each serviceman with "Aloha!" or simply, "Hey," the eloquence begins:

"Your service is very much appreciated, and the effort is never overlooked. Continue the good work. God Bless," writes one Juniorette.

"I would like to thank you for defending our country. Take pride in your courageous acts. We are proud of you," writes another.

Motivational messages are interspersed throughout the cards. Sayings like, "Never Give Up!" and "May you always have an angel by your side."

Mail call will be a happy time for these soldiers today. The Juniorettes can just imagine the smiles on each face as their valentines are opened.

Without a doubt these messages of love, hope and encouragement will be even more cherished in the days to come, as the 1/3 Bravo Company will be deployed to the Persian Gulf in April.

gwhite@vindy.com




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