Socks for Heroes

I don’t why the Marines can’t provide socks but the story of how this came about and what it must mean to the Marines that get these donations makes this important.

Tokens of Remembrance

by Jim Hogan

My son, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan, was killed in Helmand province in August 2009. In the days and weeks that followed, my wife, Carla, and I spent a lot of time with the 100 or so Marines who served with him. We asked them what they needed most, and the answer was unexpected.

Infantry members spend all their time on their feet. They have no laundry facilities, so they wash their socks in irrigation canals and air-dry them. But the sand and grit make them unusable again within a couple of days. Again and again we heard this request: “Send us socks.”

So that’s what we do. Socks for Heroes, we call it. So far, Carla and I, with the help of generous contributors, have sent almost 200,000 pairs to Afghanistan. We are grateful for the opportunity to help. It is a memorial to our son.

There is another memorial as well, of course. My son rests at the Ft. Rosecrans National Cemetery in Point Loma, which juts into the ocean and forms part of the entrance to San Diego harbor.

It is a beautiful, tranquil place not far from our home. We feel fortunate that he is there; when he was killed, we thought there was little chance that we could find him a space at Point Loma. And yet the cemetery’s director, Kurt Leopard, surprised us. “Combat casualty?” he said. “We’ll pull up a tree if necessary to make room for him.”

I don’t go there often—it is still painful for me—but not long ago I promised my older son that I would deliver flowers to the cemetery for him.

My son’s grave site is two rows in from the road. Next to him, on the right, is a Marine corporal who served in World War II and died in 1951. I looked at the dates on the stone; he was 37 years old when he passed. There is a Marine captain in front of him who lost his life in the Korean conflict. Behind him to the left is a veteran of the Spanish-American War.

I drove and then walked to Donald’s grave. I pushed a flower stand into the hard ground and set in it two bouquets, chosen for their flash of bright color. Then I noticed there was a quarter on his gravestone. I looked a little closer. At the base, a woman’s silver-strand bracelet was pushed firmly into the dirt.

The quarter is part of an old tradition that started in Roman times of leaving coins on grave markers to let the families of the fallen know that their son’s or husband’s comrades had come to visit their graves.

Today, the symbolism of the coin is that the higher the value, the closer the relationship between the fallen and the person leaving the coin. A nickel means they went to boot camp together, a dime means they served together, and a quarter means they were together when he was killed.

I wondered who had left it.

It didn’t really matter. I was grateful for the gesture.

I was also curious about the bracelet. At my son’s memorial service, a few different young women introduced themselves to us as “his last girlfriend.” We were, to say the least, amused. Was it one of them who paused to leave that token?

I sat for a few minutes. I touched the stone and said goodbye, again. In the background, volunteers from the Rotarians, who clean the grave sites, waited respectfully until I was finished before beginning work on that section of the cemetery. A young woman walked forward and asked, “Is it your son?” and I nodded. I could see tears forming in her eyes, and I felt them forming in mine.

I had timed my visit so that I wouldn’t be alone afterward. I went sailing. My partner on the boat was a man who lost his son to leukemia a decade ago. Being with him reminds me that I am not alone in my loss.

The day before, while I was shipping socks from the post office in San Clemente, a woman came by and asked me what all the crates were for. I told her. She asked if I had served; I said no, but my son did, and that he had died in Afghanistan. She said she was sorry, and then: “So this is your healing.”

Later, I thought about her comment. Maybe some wounds are too deep to heal. I don’t know.

What I know is that I am paying a debt. It is owed to those who have served our nation and still serve today. I want a Marine or a soldier somewhere to know that he or she isn’t forgotten, just as the Marine who left a quarter and the young woman who left her bracelet have not forgotten my son.

Socks for Heroes, socks for comfort—theirs and mine.


3 thoughts on “Socks for Heroes

  1. My brother and brother-in-law were in Viet Nam in 1964 they also requested socks and underwear. They also washed their socks and underwear in the putrid water. The humidity did not allow the socks to dry. They were always damp. To this day my brother treasures fresh clean socks.

  2. Yes, great story. My Son was in the same unit at the time Lance Cpl. Donald J. Hogan was killed. He knew him, liked him. My wife and daughter went to San Diego for the home coming of the unit upon their return from that deployment. By chance the rental car she was given was a mini-van type that would carry 9 passengers. The first night back my Son and a bunch of his friends talked his mother to be the Designated Driver and they did a sweep of the Hooters in the area – kind of a tradition for the guys in his squad. She was touched by the request on the very next day, with many of the same young men hungover from the night before, for her to drive them to Point Loma to visit their Friend Donald Hogan. It was moving because all of the young men she shepherded around the night before had some kind of emotional reaction at the grave site. It was the first time she could ever remember seeing her Son cry.

    All through my Son’s deployment that year we sent him and three other adopted Marines care packages once a week. And in every box we sent, we packed socks in there with all the other stuff. Fortunately for us we live near a factory outlet store that specializes in socks so we were able to get them cheap. It is funny the little things that they liked, the socks was one of them, we sent one of those shower packs that you fill with water and then hang from a tree, contraband Vienna sausages (I simply removed the wrapper), hard candy and batteries.

    That year my wife and I aged at 4x time while that unit was in Afghanistan. Glad that is over.

    BT: Jimmy T sends

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