Virginia Dabonka is a Gold Star mother, a native of Weehawken who lost two sons, John and Joseph, in the Vietnam War.
“John was in the Army and Joseph was in the Navy,” Dabonka said. “I think of them often.”
Melody Tinker is a Weehawken woman who remembers writing cards and letters to the soldiers and sailors who served in Vietnam.
“Many years ago, I would constantly write to the servicemen in Vietnam,” Tinker said. “After a while, you almost forget about it.”
However, Dabonka and Tinker joined forces recently, along with the senior citizens who frequent the Senior Nutritional Center on Highwood Avenue and the Senior Citizen Housing Complex at 525 Gregory Ave., to write Christmas cards to those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces overseas during the holiday season.
It marked the third straight year that a concerned group of Weehawken residents combined forces to send holiday greetings to the servicemen and women overseas.
“It really means a lot to me,” said Dabonka, who has written Christmas cards every year that the township has organized the effort. “If I can make one soldier or sailor happy for Christmas, then I’m happy. I hope it brings a lot of joy to the soldiers all over the world.”
Weehawken resident Joe Bradley, a decorated U.S. veteran, started the effort three years ago. Bradley sent letters to the United States Veterans Administration to get the addresses to send the cards to, then made the mailing labels to place on the cards so they could find the right destination.
Senior citizens gathered at the Nutritional Center one afternoon to write hundreds of cards.
“It’s a great community effort,” said Carmela Facchini, the director of the Weehawken Senior Citizens. “The seniors all look forward to writing the cards. It’s a nice afternoon for them and they really enjoy it when they get responses back.”
Tinker, a disabled woman who has volunteered her time in several capacities throughout the township, especially the Weehawken Free Public Library, organized the effort at 525 Gregory Ave.
“We make a little party for them to write the cards,” Tinker said. “I think it helps everyone to get in the Christmas spirit. It means a lot to them that they can show their appreciation to the servicemen. Since we’re not at war, people tend to forget those who serve. This year, considering what happened with the USS Cole [in Yemen], it’s even more important. It used to be all over television during Christmas, with Bob Hope, but we tend to forget now.”
Tinker said that one year, the people at 525 Gregory received a response from an ambulance corps in Kosovo. “They continued to correspond with us throughout their stay,” Tinker said. “It’s really special when we get a letter back.”
Various groups donated all the cards and the Weehawken Housing Authority paid for the postage.
“It’s just another example of our community service and spirit,” Weehawken Mayor Richard Turner said. “The soldiers look forward to receiving cards from home and our seniors feel like they’re giving their special holiday feeling to the servicemen overseas, another touch from home. It really is a nice effort.”
Although Dabonka still suffers from the loss of her two sons, she feels good about being able to send some Christmas cheer to other servicemen and women.
“I think there’s a special feeling to Christmas that we all should share,” said Dabonka, who still writes poetry and has been published several times. “I know it means a lot to a lot of people and that’s why we all do it every year. I’m grateful to have the chance to do it.”
That alone sends the true meaning of Christmas.