An Effort With Real Heart: Troops Receive Valentines From Newtown
Three Newtown High School graduates on active duty in the US Armed Forces served as points of contact this year for residents who wanted to send valentines from home. A fourth graduate continues to serve as a go-between for the local coordinator of the Valentines For Troops effort.
Donna Monteleone has coordinated similar efforts for at least 15 years, inviting all ages to create or sign cards that are then sent to soldiers with ties to town.
Monteleone is the senior vice commander of American Legion Post 202 in Newtown. She is a former US Army Captain with the Signal Corps. She was a company commander; 2nd Infantry Division staff officer and platoon leader in Korea; and the only female officer on the team when she served on the Combat Development Experimentation Command, Fort Liggett, Calif.
A former member and officer of Newtown VFW Post 308, she is now a member of and Post Surgeon for VFW Post 10201-Brookfield.
Boxes of valentines and other goodies were shipped from Newtown recently to Brian Gregory, Catherine Pendergast, and Eric Wismar. Sandy Hook native Arthur Fredericks did not receive valentines this year, but continues to serve as a conduit, he said, between deployed units, including those who did benefit from the care packages.
Those on the receiving end of the special cards, notes, messages, and gifts all agreed that opening a box that includes valentines from their hometown was a very positive experience.
According to Monteleone, students from most Newtown schools created valentines and/or letters and put items into care packages for this year’s Valentines For Troops program. The schools included Hawley, Head O’ Meadow, Middle Gate, and Sandy Hook elementary schools and Reed Intermediate School.
Members of the Girl Scout troop based at Newtown High School and that school’s Leos Club also participated in the 2021 program.
Newtown Community Center, Newtown Lions Club, Newtown Parks & Recreation, Newtown Youth & Family Services, Women Involved in Newtown, Newtown Transitions Group, and St Rose of Lima Church religious education classes also participated.
Monteleone also reports that many individuals and families sent care packages, including Loreen Bradley, Leon Canfield, Elizabeth Murphy Duero, the Kliczewski family, Debbie Lopes-Moreno, the Moseman family, Ivy Pearson, Mary Pendergast, Donna and Neil Randle, Katherine Simpson, and Mary Canfield Witty.
Newtown High School 2014 graduate Brian Gregory is a lieutenant with the US Army infantry. He is currently on assignment at Fort Riley, Kan.
The 24-year-old recently made time to distribute some of the valentines from Newtown to soldiers in his unit. He walked around, handing them out one by one.
“It was touching,” he said of the notes, “to see the work that was put in to them. Some of the students are quite funny!”
As of February 10, Gregory had received valentines from two schools, and was expecting another delivery. Sharing them, he said, “definitely made my day.
“Our job can get a bit mundane, especially during the pandemic,” he said. “It really brightened up our day to see these cards.
“I would like to say thank you to the students and faculty for the amazing cards,” he said via e-mail. “It’s incredible to be from such a kind and thoughtful community and I’m proud and excited to be able to share the support with the soldiers I work with.”
Similarly, Catherine Pendergast said it was “very exciting” to receive a valentines package from home.
Pendergast, 19, is an airman stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas.
For the 2019 NHS graduate in her first year of being in the service, opening a box with more than 200 valentines from her hometown was breathtaking.
“I was overwhelmed with joy and happiness and couldn’t wait to pass them all out to my fellow airmen here on base and see their reaction,” Pendergast shared on February 15. She did that by heading to the location in her building where everyone has to sign in and out when entering or exiting.
“I sat there all morning passing them out until I ran completely out,” she shared. Other airmen added to the effort by making or purchasing valentines after seeing the ones she was preparing to pass out, and then helping with the distribution, she said.
Included in the package from Newtown, she said, were letters from family members and pre-K students.
“There were handmade valentines sent to me through pre-K students, and other handwritten ones done by my aunt Mary Pendergast and her co-workers,” Pendergast said.
“This is not a very common thing, so many people were very surprised and thankful to get something on Valentine’s Day when away from their husbands, wives, and loved ones in general,” she added.
National Guard Representation
Eric A. Wismar is a US Air Force lieutenant colonel and chaplain with the 103 Air Wing, based at Bradley Airport. He is also full-time support chaplain for the Connecticut National Guard.
On Monday, February 8, he received a box with a dozen valentines from Newtown. He had been looking forward to their arrival, he said, for a few reasons.
“It turns out this weekend is a drill for us,” Wismar, 50, said February 8. Drills are traditionally scheduled the first weekend of each month, he said, but this month was pushed out by one week. That meant the arrival of valentines was in time for more people to receive them during their training.
Wismar expected to be joined by a religious affairs airman; together, the two serve as a religious support team.
“We’ll go out and check on people, see how they’re doing, and in conjunction with this drill, I will be disseminating the valentines,” he explained last week.
The chaplain was also looking forward to the deliveries because, he said, valentines and care packages more often go to troops overseas.
“I think it’s a rarity,” he said, of receiving such gifts at the National Guard location. “I think it’s going to be a special thing.”
Even knowing the gifts were coming, he said, opening the box provided “a smile from ear to ear.
“It reminds me almost of being back in kindergarten,” he reminisced. Before his family moved to Newtown, the Wismars lived in Naugatuck. “I went to kindergarten at Salem School in Naugatuck, and I can remember making cards and things like that.”
Sandy Hook native Arthur Fredericks did not receive valentines from Newtown this year, but he was a member of the first unit to receive and benefit from the town’s Valentines For Troops program.
Fredericks deployed as the first sergeant for an infantry company from the US Army 102nd Infantry Regiment to western Afghanistan in 2006-07.
He is now is a command sergeant major with the Connecticut National Guard, 85th Troop Command, and a member of American Legion Post 202 in Newtown. He serves as a conduit “for the units deployed now, as I am the senior enlisted leader for a brigade in Connecticut,” he said via e-mail February 16. He has spoken to students at Sandy Hook Elementary, Reed Intermediate, and Newtown High schools, he said.
The soldiers who received valentines from Newtown, he said, were “predominantly from the 102nd Infantry who are set to deploy again in the near future, as well as others serving in Jordan and other places.”
Donna Monteleone said on February 17 that she is still hearing from people who want to reach out to troops.
“It’s never too late to send valentines. I can give people someone to write to year-round. It doesn’t have to be centered around Valentine’s Day,” she said.
Monteleone’s contacts include troops in all branches of the Armed Forces, and extend to those well outside of Newtown. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 203-577-9568.