Larry LaRue

Larry LaRue: Thousands of troops have received her annual letter

Patricia Reynolds of Steilacoom starts a letter to an overseas serviceman or woman. Her dog, Babe, joins her in the kitchen.
Patricia Reynolds of Steilacoom starts a letter to an overseas serviceman or woman. Her dog, Babe, joins her in the kitchen.

Patricia Reynolds is a woman of letters. She writes them, copies them, sends them — thousands of them, to men and women she’s never met.

And at 81 years old, she’s not about to quit.

“I’ll never stop,” the Steilacoom woman said.

Reynolds has mailed her letters to U.S. troops since 1981, after reading a syndicated newspaper column.

“I started when Dear Abby wrote about all the servicemen and women alone at the holidays, then listed eight or 10 addresses of naval ships,” Reynolds said. “Years later, I wrote to her asking about other addresses — and she wrote back and told me to go to a website.”

Nothing, including the death of her husband, Richard, in 2006, has stopped her from writing to the troops.

“I sent 2,000 letters one year; I just sent 1,050 this year,” Reynolds said. “Last year. I only got 500, but that was Babe’s fault.”

Babe is her 8-year-old chocolate labrador. The two walk every morning, rain or shine, and often put in four miles a day.

“Last year we were walking along a road when a car came by with three dogs hanging out the windows and barking,” Reynolds said. “Babe didn’t bark, she bolted on me. I wound up injuring a tendon in my wrist.”

When Reynolds writes her annual letter, Babe is usually mentioned.

“I’ll write about my dog, about the mountains where I live, about my family, about the McChord chapel choir that I sing with every Sunday.

“One letter I got back said my letter sounded like National Geographic. I try to give them a little piece of home.”

For years, her letters have been mailed by an out-of-state nonprofit organization.

“I handwrite my letter, and Fedex makes copies of it,” Reynolds said. “They do the best job. Then I fold them, put a return address label on the top right-hand corner and send them all to ‘Friends of Our Troops.’

“They have a deal on postage — 17 cents per letter — and I write them a check.”

Friends of Our Troops can be traced back to the Vietnam War, when it was called the Vietnam Mail Call. In 1972, it became a worldwide effort to get mail to the troops.

Late in the ’90s, Glen Wiser took over the organization, then based in Fayetteville, N.C. It was using the license of a church, Kentucky’s Liberty Chapel. Since then, Wiser said, he has supervised two annual mass mailings: one in December, another in July.

“We just sent out 700 packages of letters and cards,” Wiser said. “We’ll do it again in July. We get letters from the troops and letters from people who have sent them through us.

“One classroom wrote to say they’d gotten a response from every continent except Antarctica.”

The payback for all those letters Reynolds sends is the response they generate. She said she has received letters from service members stationed all over the world, on land and on ships at sea.

“Most will write back and mention Babe and say ‘Oh, I miss my dog!’ ” Reynolds said.

“One of the nicest letters I received was from a chaplain in Afghanistan who said he’d been a boat person from Vietnam. At one point he said he’d been contemplating taking his own life, then found the Lord, and now he was an Army chaplain,” she said.

In 1988, she heard back from a member of the Golden Knights, an Army parachute group.

“My husband and I went to a show and talked to her, got a few photos and a poster for my grandson from one of the few women in the group,” Reynolds said. “She let my grandson help her fold her chute after she’d landed. He loved that.”

Friends of Our Troops notified Reynolds a year ago that the volume of her letters puts her in its Top 12.

“Getting a letter from the troops is like a million dollars,” Reynolds said.

For information on Friends of Our Troops

Friends of Our Troops, P.O. Box 100, New Madrid, MO 63869.

Or call 573-748-7621.