Frankfort resident Judith Spaulding is supporting U.S. troops and veterans, including her husband, a Purple Heart recipient, by being the National President of the Military Order of the Purple Hearts Ladies Auxiliary. Fresh from a testimonial dinner in her honor, Spaulding meet with Staff Writter Brittany Johnson to discuss the groups current efforts to support veterans.
Lets start with the basics. What is the Ladies Auxiliary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart?
The Ladies Auxiliary is made up of any female descendant of a Purple Heart recipient whether it be a wife, mother, sister, daughter, stepdaughters are eligible now, and granddaughters any immediate female descendant of the Purple Heart recipient.
I know this is a national organization. How large is the auxiliary?
We have approximately 6,000 members, nationwide.
Is there a Frankfort local chapter?
There is. We have Kentucky River Unit 622 of which were affiliated with the chapter here in Frankfort. Billy Smith is our current commander of 622. You might know Billy from the American Legion. Hes very active in the military groups and also with the Boy Scouts.
What does the auxiliary do for the community and what is it involved with?
Were involved in taking care of our veterans, whether it be in a private nursing home, whether it be in Wilmore, Hanson or Hazard. If we know of a Purple Heart recipient in a local hospital, we try to help that veteran get anything he needs.
I understand that the auxiliary worked to aid the Hurricane Katrina victims? What did you do there?
Yes, we did try to help. I think we donated a total, with the men and ladies groups together, we donated a large amount of money.
Did you hold fund-raisers or did you just have members donate money?
Members donated money and then our foundation provided some as well.
I understand you just wrapped up an important local event. What was that?
We had our National Executive Meeting and my National Testimonial Dinner last weekend at the Fairfield. This is just a dinner honoring the president. There is one for the Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, as well. We had about 85 to 90 people there. Heather French Henry came in and did a really good presentation for us. She signed books for us because she wrote Peppers Purple Heart, which is a childrens book. She graciously came up and helped us out at the event.
Is the Ladies Auxiliary currently working on any projects locally or statewide?
Theyre always involved with Wilmore with the hospital down there at the Kentucky Veterans Center. They go down and play bingo, have parties with the veterans, or if theres something the veterans need, theyll call up and say, Can you help us with this? and we do that.
What causes within the group are you especially passionate about? Is there anything in particular that you really feel strongly about?
Im really passionate about the young men and women who are coming back from Iraq.
Are supporters of veterans at the auxiliary doing anything special for our troops in Iraq?
Yes we do. We have a group outside of Washington, D.C., that meets every plane that comes back. Were the only group that is authorized to go in and meet them when they return. We have some very devoted people that do this and these people are really faithful. They have beepers and theyre called and told what time the planes come in because planes come in only in the middle of the night. They do not come in during the daytime, it is only at night. So its really good to have somebody there welcoming them and saying, What do you need because they come in with literally nothing.
Would you ever be interested in greeting a plane?
I would love to. I was privileged back in September to be in Washington, D.C., for a Nurses Memorial at Arlington, and that night we went into a restaurant in downtown Washington called Fran OBryans and every Friday night an organization, whether it be the DAV, The Purple Heart, The American Legion, some organization pays for these young soldiers to come with their family and have dinner there to kind of get them out of the hospital environment and get them back into society, so to speak. It was quite an experience, because these kids are so young. But attitude is give me an arm, or give me a leg, fix me up and let me go back. And you have to say, No, youre not going back. You cant do that.
Do you guys work with only veterans who have been injured, or do you also work with some of the other?
We work with all veterans. We kind of lean toward the Purple Heart recipients because that is our group. But to us, a veteran is a veteran.
What has been one of your most meaningful experiences while working with this organization?
Placing the wreath on the Tomb of the Unknown on Veterans Day last year. I got to do that because my national commander went to The White House to have breakfast with the president and so I, along with the senior vice commander, out of California, said, it would be all right if I presented the wreath. And it was awesome.
How did you originally get involved with this group?
My husband and a gentleman here in town named Dave Price were going to a Purple Heart convention in Radcliff and I wasnt a member, and I was just going to go along for the ride to just enjoy the weekend and so we got down there and my husband encouraged me to attend a meeting. But I didnt know if I should, because I wasnt a member of the group. Well, there was a lady standing there and she said, Oh, you can become a member today. So I was off and running.
When was that?
Lets see, 88 or 89 and then I went to my first national convention in Oklahoma City in 90. So Ive been as involved as I can ever since.
Which man in your family is a Purple Heart recipient and when did he serve?
My husband. He served in World War II. And he was wounded in Italy.
What does that mean to you that he and the others within the organization gave such a sacrifice for this country?
I think its wonderful. Im very proud of all of them.
How can other people get involved? I know ladies who have family members who have Purple Hearts are eligible to be members. How can someone go about becoming a member?
All they have to do is contact one of us and I will be glad to sign them up. Were in all the national magazines. They can call me or e-mail me and wed be glad to sign them up. We meet here on the third Monday of every month at the VFW Post 4075, down on Second Street at 6 p.m. Our meetings usually last about an hour and then we usually go out to eat somewhere. So thats kind of an incentive to get them to come out.
Do you team up with any other groups besides Military Order of the Purple Heart?
Oh sure. Were a very small group here so, in other words, you have to really work with the VFW or the American Legion or any veteran group. We just kind of get together its more fun, when its a larger group. Youve got a common goal that youre working on to bring the groups together.
What is the main message that you would like the community to know about our veterans and our active service people right now that youd like to share with them?
Just keep them in their thoughts and prayers, especially these kids over seas.
As the president, what all does your job entail? Do you go to every states convention?
You try to get to as many states as you can. Its very hard when you work full time. It would be nice if I were retired, but I do work every day. I do try to get to as many meetings as I can. I have probably 30 or 40 e-mails a day to answer. There are plenty of letters to answer and theres always something going on. Im probably going to have withdrawal after August. I wont know what to do.
Whats your favorite thing about being involved in the Ladies Auxiliary?
The people. The people are just wonderful. It is like one big family. You look forward to the National Convention because you want to see whats going on with so-and-so. Its a camaraderie that its just the closeness that is really indescribable. I know we cant wait to see certain ones in Texas because theyve got two more grandchildren. Its really a big deal. That type of relationship is really neat.
Do you currently have any people you care about serving over seas?
I just had my godmothers son who just returned from Iraq and thankfully, he is home safe with his wife and children.
Are there any other projects youre working on?
Sure, yes. When my term is over as national president, I have a little project. Were going to do a project that is actually making pillow covers and theyre in the design of a flag, so I intend on getting into that and making those so that we can give to the veterans that are coming home. United Airlines furnishes the little pillows, so were thankful for that.
And is that with this organization or is that more of a personal project?
Its a group in Illinois that started it called Pillows for Soldiers. I just thought that would be neat and that would be nice to do. I like to sew, so that would be good to do.
Is there anything else youd like to say about the organization? Is there anything else coming up?
Were going to have our Kentucky convention up in Ashland, on May 19. This coming weekend, Im going to Atlanta for the Commanders Testimonial Dinner. In June, Ill be in Arizona for their state convention. And then kind of regroup and get ready to go to California for our National Convention in August and passing on the national presidents pin to the next lady.