A little piece of hope for the troops|[01/19/08]

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 18, 2008

James was headed to Brookhaven to surprise his mother, who did not expect to see her son in the middle of his second tour of duty in Iraq.

Those are nearly all of the personal details Vicksburg resident Doris Brown remembers about the soldier she talked to in the Atlanta airport and on the plane that carried them to Jackson last Sept. 10.

But the substance of the young serviceman’s conversation with the local gift shop owner has prompted her to start a campaign to send about 600 Iraq-based soldiers the same token of appreciation she gave to James before they parted company–a hand-held cross designed to cling to the hand of the person holding it.

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Brown’s idea was born after James described his daily duties to her, telling Brown that he and two other soldiers spend hours every day driving the perilous roads of Iraq in a Humvee. The vehicle’s rearview mirror is decorated with a cross.

Thinking that James should also have a cross to hold, Brown reached into her handbag to fish out one of a type of cross she has been selling at This-N-That, the gift shop she owns and operates on U.S. 61 North.

It’s called The Clinging Cross, and it’s designed to be grasped easily.

According to a mass e-mail Brown sent to her friends, the young soldier thanked her for the cross and still had it in his hand when his brother picked him up at the Jackson airport.

“I wanted to say, ‘Wait, James! Don’t go! Let me give you some more crosses to take to your friends!'” Brown remembered.

After four months, “I still think of James often,” Brown wrote in her e-mail. “I can’t let go of the idea of getting as many Clinging Crosses as possible in the hands of the men and women like James who are proudly serving our country in Iraq.”

Friends of Brown have encouraged the idea.

“I have purchased some of those crosses and given them to people myself and saw how much it meant to them. When Doris told me about the soldier she met and her idea, it was just something I felt I wanted to be a part of,” said Nellie Caldwell, who also is chairman of the Vicksburg Riverfront Mural Committee. “The soldiers need to know that we care about what they’re going through.”

If all goes according to plan, Brown will provide more than 70 of the crosses to members of the U.S. Army Reserve’s 412th Engineer Command, scheduled to deploy to Iraq later this month. The rest will be sent to military units in Iraq in time for Easter.

But it all depends upon whether Brown can raise $5,000 by March 1. By her calculations, that will be enough to buy 600 crosses wholesale and pay for the costs of shipping them to military chaplains in Iraq who will distribute them to servicemen in time for Easter.

Brown and Caldwell this week set up an account named Crosses to Iraq at BancorpSouth. As of Thursday, $1,800 had been raised.

Brown is also accepting cash donations from gift shop customers such as Casey Stokes, who contributed to a jar designated for project donations after hearing of the campaign.

“They’re over there without friends or family,” Stokes said of soldiers in Iraq. “I think it’s great — whatever we can do to help.”