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<i>Adopt-a-Sailor</i> Provides a Touch of Home on Thanksgiving Day - 2001-11-22


Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States. It dates back to the 17th century as a celebration of the harvest and blessings of the past year.

Thanksgiving has been an official U.S. holiday since 1863 and, traditionally, a day when many Americans try to be with their families. Some people in the Chicago area will set a few extra places at the dinner table Thursday for those who cannot be with their families.

The United States Navy's only training center for new recruits is about 50 kilometers north of Chicago. On Thanksgiving Day, just about all of its 4,000 sailors-in-training will be sitting down to dinner with area families or organizations, thanks to the center's Adopt-a-Sailor program.

Bill Dermody is a spokesman for the Naval Training Center. "It is a real benefit for them," he said. "They have had no opportunity to go off this base since they set foot here five or six weeks previously. So, this is just extremely out of the ordinary for our recruits. They normally do not see the outside world for nine-and-a-half weeks after they join the Navy.

Adopt-a-Sailor began about 50 years ago. This year, with the U.S. military engaged both overseas and at home in the war against terrorism, demand from local families wanting to host a couple of recruits has been great. By last week, all the recruits had already been placed, and the Navy stopped taking requests.

It took Olga Ward and her husband from the city of Elgin, Illinois, two days of telephoning the base and getting a busy signal before they got through and were assigned two sailors to host for dinner. She said, "We are just tickled that there is something we can do to show some gratitude, to be a small part of making what they do, which is so hard, easier.

In Wheeling, Illinois, at the local post of AMVETS, military veterans' support organization, 150 recruits from Great Lakes will join veterans for a day of music, movies, and the dishes that comprise a traditional thanksgiving dinner.

Korean War Army veteran Willy Wallis runs the post kitchen. "It just makes my heart feel so good, along with everybody here," he said. "We are all veterans here, and we just love it. They eat. We give them turkey and pie and mashed potatoes and beans and corn and dressing and gravy, the whole works." Mr. Wallis says the AMVETS post in Wheeling has hosted recruits from Great Lakes for the last 20 Thanksgivings.

Back at the training center, spokesman Bill Dermody says officials are happy that so many local families are looking for ways to support the U.S. military. "The main thing that impresses everyone at the base is the outstanding generosity of Americans," he said, "particularly here in the Chicago area. To take these sailors into their homes at the holiday and show them a great time, it is just a wonderful thing."

The Great Lakes Training Center also sends sailors to local homes for Christmas dinner. It will start taking those requests on Monday.

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