COCHRAN, GEORGIA: Imagine you are group of soldiers – millions of miles away in a foreign land, and you get a box in the mail filled with all sorts of goodies from chips to peanuts to Ramen Noodles to candies.
Of course, you are. And that is exactly what Tommy Guyton, age 58, remembers about his stint with the United States Air Force during a deployment to Qatar.
His rank at the time was Master Sergeant E7, and he was the shop supervisor. “We got a box from the American Gold Star Mothers’ group.” He opened the box and the soldiers in his group literally jumped in, and grabbed the items up.
According to the group’s website, “ The American Gold Star Mothers, Inc. is a national not for profit 501(c)3 Veterans Service Organization founded in 1928. The organization’s membership is made up of mothers whose children died while in military service, or died as a result of that service, or are missing in action.”
It continued to state, “The organization serves veterans, military members and their families, and families of the fallen by volunteering their time in veterans hospitals and homes, community based outreach programs, and through fund raising efforts for causes that support our veterans.”
“They sent out boxes randomly, and addressed them to Troops … they would have games, chips. Ramen Noodles and other stuff in the boxes,” Tommy explained to The Murphy Gazette during an interview at a local Mexican restaurant in Cochran.
Tommy was about to throw the box away, and he noticed that the box was heavy. “So I put it down, and looked … there were these two bags of homemade jerky in there.”
He put one of the bags away, and then brought out the other gallon bag to the soldiers. “They were so excited … they devoured that bag.”
Tommy laughed when asked what happened to the bag that he had hidden. “I rationed it out.”
It was then that he noticed a card on the bag … the maker of the jerky had penned a note with her address and name and email address, asking for someone to write back.
Tommy said, “There was no question that I wouldn’t have done that … Especially since she had taken the time to make the jerky for us.”
The jerky, he said, “was like gold … it was like a taste of home for us.”
When thinking of the jerky from Rosalie, Tommy used it as an example of defining hope. “Whenever something goes bad, and you go to sleep, you can realize that tomorrow is going to be better. You hope for tomorrow.”
Tommy then sat at his desk and emailed Rosalie Gonsolin. The next morning, when he returned to his station, he saw that he had an e-mail back. “She thanked me for writing her back.”
Where most of the members of the Gold Star Mothers had lost a child in the military, or had some connection that way, Rosalie didn’t have that connection. She just knew some of the members of the group, and “she just wanted to do something.”
Tommy said, “She had said she had probably sent out about 100 bags of her homemade jerky, and I was the first to contact her.”
He added, “A lot of people don’t realize just how important it was to those who were deployed to receive the gifts … for someone to do that for us is phenomenal.”
As a spouse of a solider, Tommy’s wife, Catherine said, when she heard about the box, and the jerky that she was “really appreciative that she took the time do that for the soldiers, and went out of her way.”
From then on, Tommy and Rosalie wrote back and forth on email, texted or called for the next 13 to 14 years. She even started communicating with Catherine.
In August of 2018, Tommy flew out to California to finally meet Rosalie face to face. “I was not nervous about meeting her … maybe more nervous about flying.” Tommy grinned.
During his time in California, Rosalie and her family “made me feel right at home … and I never felt a hunger pain all the time I was there – they fed me well.” Rosalie made sure Tommy experienced the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge, and even took him on some tours, including in wine country.
“It was very special,” Tommy said. Rosalie comes from a big family and is of Syrian and Lebanese heritage. Tommy is from the south. He said that he never felt a culture difference, and said he felt like he had a family friend.
Later, Rosalie and her best friend were on the east coast, and driving up from Savannah, and stopped in Cochran to see Tommy and Catherine. Catherine said, “Our granddaughter was playing softball, so they had a chance to watch her play, and had a good time.”
Tommy credits those bags of jerky with launching the friendship between Rosalie and himself and his family and her family.
In reflecting on the jerky, Tommy grinned.
“It was like manna from Heaven … we normally would get the usual stuff, which was great, but this was some homemade jerky.” Tommy said.
(C)Photos Guyton Family