“We know what it is like to be forgotten,” says John Kinzinger. In 1966, at age nineteen, Kinzinger was drafted into the army. Leaving behind his wife and young son, he spent a year in Vietnam as a battalion radio operator in the First Air Cavalry. Now, every five or six weeks, he sends out an email inviting Vietnam vets and their families and friends to help send care packages to U.S. soldiers, mostly from this area, serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. “This war has been going on so long, they need a morale boost more now than ever,” he says.
“Vietnam veterans are the core behind this effort,” says Kinzinger, a retired Ford engineering supervisor and care package chairman for Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 423 and Vietnam Veterans of America Chapter 310. After seven years of sending the packages, they have everything down pat, filling sixty or seventy boxes in less than an hour. Kinzinger, who lives in Ann Arbor, continually updates the list of recipients–recently, while shopping at Kroger, he heard a mother talking about her son’s deployment and gave her his business card. The gifts and postage–$30,000 so far–are all donated. “Linda French [of the Sidetrack Bar & Grill in Ypsilanti] put on a fund-raiser for us last September and raised $4,000,” Kinzinger says.
Gifts include energy bars and homemade cookies, toothbrushes and toothpaste, books, CDs, and DVDs (no porn, no violence, says Kinzinger), and fun stuff–when the U-M athletic department switched its sponsor from Nike to Adidas, the troops got Michigan footballs, soccer balls, and football jerseys. Kinzinger contributes photos he takes of the staff at the Hooters restaurant in Taylor, but it’s apparently not enough. “I get notes back saying, ‘Next time, send the girls!'” He adds, “We need something with men to send to the female troopers”–in January, three of the sixty-nine packages went to women.