May 13, 2008

Letter lost 5 years may find its writer serving in Iraq

When Ted Wagner was a Downey High School junior, he wrote a letter to a soldier serving in Iraq. It was March 2003 and the war had just begun. Wagner wanted to show his support. He thanked the unknown soldier for his service and bravery. The letter also expressed confidence in a U.S. victory.

Somewhere between good intentions and delivery, the letter got lost. The local Red Cross just found it and turned it over to Debbie Katsounakis, president of the Central Valley chapter of Blue Star Mothers and Families. The organization is a support group for the loved ones of serving GIs.

Katsounakis has forwarded Wagner's letter to Iraq. It may even arrive in time to reach Wagner himself, who is serving his second tour of duty with the Marines.

Wagner's mom, Kathy Wagner- Habina, didn't know about the letter, but said that's the kind of young man her son is. She said he joined the Marines because "he just felt like he wanted to help and do something for his country. I took him and (his younger brother) Brett to the recruiters when they were 14 and 15 years old."

Wagner comes home May 23.

Although his brother decided to go to college, Wagner-Habina, 55, followed in her son's footsteps. She joined the California State Military Reserve.

She has done administrative work, helped process soldiers going to Iraq from Camp Roberts, and was called to active duty for 10 days during the Southern California wildfires last fall, serving in Sacramento.

Wagner-Habina also took part in Golden Guardians, a Homeland Defense training exercise.

Today, she is happily working as a recruiter for the reserve. Wagner-Habina said the age limits are now 62 for those with previous military service and 60 without. For those with needed skills, such as doctors, age limits can be waived, she said.

There was one other misplaced letter found with Wagner's. It was written by another Downey junior, Jared Birmingham. Birmingham is now part of Delta Force, a counter-terrorism special forces unit. He is deploying to Afghanistan this month.

SUPPORTING THE TROOPS -- May is National Military Appreciation Month. It includes Military Spouse Day, Loyalty Day, Armed Forces Day/Week, National Day of Prayer and Memorial Day. Among the ways Americans can show their support:

1. Hire a veteran.

2. Honor those serving. When you see a military person in uniform, or a retiree wearing a hat or pin, shake their hand and say thanks.

3. Never forget. Visit a veterans hospital.

4. Remember those in harm's way. Help reach the goal of sending 10,000 thank-yous in letters or cards to those serving. Kids can draw pictures, too. The Blue Star Mothers will mail the messages in care packages to Iraq and Afghanistan.

5. Honor our country. Fly your flag and wear your flag lapel pin.

NICE TO MEET YOU -- Mike Duncan came home on leave from Iraq recently, and the sweetheart he'd never met, Michelle Capriulo of Ripon, carried this sign: "Hi, Michael. I'm your girlfriend."

Duncan, 18, is the combat medic from Modesto who helped arrange to have crutches sent to a crippled Iraqi boy.

The couple met online while Duncan was serving in Iraq.

Duncan said he was so nervous about meeting Capriulo that, "I nearly got back on the plane."

When he saw her, his nerves went away. She had a birthday present pasted on the back of her sign, a certificate showing her completion of an emer- gency medical technician course.

Witnesses said Duncan immediately tested Michelle's knowledge of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

All's well that ends well.

MEMORIAL DAY SERVICE -- The San Joaquin National Cemetery will have its traditional Memorial Day weekend service May 25 at 11 a.m. Steve Muro, director of field operations for the national cemeteries from Washington, will be the keynote speaker. A Gold Star mother and Gold Star wife will lay wreaths during the ceremony.

Bee staff writer Roger W. Hoskins can be reached at rhoskins@modbee.com or 578-2311.

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