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Veterans Day and the Gospel of Food for Hungry Children

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A teddy bear accompanies a halal meal in a C-130 Hercules before a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq, Aug. 14, 2014. An American child donated the teddy bear to offer support for children trapped in the Iraq conflict. U.S. airmen assisted with the airdrop, which included bottled water and food for displaced citizens of Sinjar, Iraq. Brawley is a loadmaster assigned to the 746th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

A teddy bear accompanies a halal meal in a C-130 Hercules before a humanitarian airdrop over Iraq, Aug. 14, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Vernon Young Jr.

As we celebrate this Veterans Day, let’s recall a recent U.S. military mission led by a teddy bear. When the Air Force was called upon to drop humanitarian supplies in Iraq, a soldier attached a teddy bear to the cargo.

The bear was donated by a child who wanted to help Iraq’s children. The air drops brought food and water to thousands who were trapped by the ISIS terrorists.

Although we do not often hear about the role of the U.S. military in feeding the hungry, it’s a mission that goes back many years. It makes sense too because where there is war there is hunger. You cannot win a peace if there is hunger and suffering.

Think back to the Armistice of November 11, 1918, which ended the main fighting of World War One. Some countries, such as the Baltic States of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, continued to see violence and unrest. Starvation threatened these populations. U.S. soldiers with the American Relief Administration sought to bring them aid.

Captain Thomas Orbison, who did relief work in Latvia, wrote about spreading “the gospel of food for undernourished children.” He was ordered by Colonel John C. Groome, who headed the ARA Baltics States mission, to “go to it.”

The ARA set up feeding programs, especially for children, in these and other countries. It encountered many obstacles. In Latvia, for example, the country had been occupied by both German and Russian forces. With this chaos, getting food to the population was a major struggle.

Lieutenant George Harrington was assigned a team to bring food to Riga, the capital of Latvia. His soldiers moved 40 cars of supplies by train toward the city. There was one problem though. The tracks were torn up about 10 miles from their destination. That did not stop this group of determined soldiers.

They repaired the tracks and brought the food in to feed the hungry. A malnourished girl, who had bravely kept the American consulate open despite the war, greeted the soldiers and helped organize the aid. Harrington’s mission was a success. President Woodrow Wilson remarked, “We need a lot of Harringtons and his sergeants at home.”

This was the “get it done” attitude of the American Relief Administration. It saved millions of lives during and after World War One. One ARA soldier was told in Montenegro that it would be impossible to deliver food aid in a very mountainous region blocked off from regular access. The officer replied, “Yes, we can” and went about bringing food over broken bridges using cables. They even used animals to move food over snowy trails. The officer said, “We did it. The people in this district are now happily eating American flour and pork. They have stopped digging graves and are, instead, planting their crops for this year’s harvest.”

Captain Orbison could not believe his eyes upon visiting a town in Latvia. There was this amazing transformation that took place after the feeding programs had started. He recalls being greeted with flowers. Prior to the arrival of the food aid the area looked like a ghost town.

Captain John Miller, who did relief work in Estonia, noted how children were backward in physical and mental development because of the years of war. The ARA launched a feeding program there after the Armistice. They served over 35 million meals to help save this population.

On Veterans Day and every day let’s remember these life-saving missions by soldiers fighting hunger. For there are 805 million people worldwide who struggle to get food every day. They are victims of the war launched by ISIS in Iraq, and of wars in Syria, South Sudan, Central African Republic and other nations in conflict.

As long as this spirit of humanitarianism exists we can help those in need. We can keep the hope alive that someday we can end hunger around the globe.

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About William Lambers

William Lambers is the author of several books including Ending World Hunger: School Lunches for Kids Around the World. This book features over 50 interviews with officials from the UN World Food Programme and other charities discussing school feeding programs that fight child hunger. He is also the author of Nuclear Weapons, The Road to Peace: From the Disarming of the Great Lakes to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, Open Skies for Peace, The Spirit of the Marshall Plan: Taking Action Against World Hunger, School Lunches for Kids Around the World, The Roadmap to End Global Hunger, From War to Peace and the Battle of Britain. He is also a writer for the History News Service. His articles have been published by newspapers including the Cincinnati Enquirer, Des Moines Register, the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Buffalo News, San Diego Union Tribune, the Providence Journal, Free Lance-Star (VA), the Bakersfield Californian, the Washington Post, Miami Herald (FL), Chicago Sun-Times, the Patriot Ledger (MA), Charleston Sunday Gazette Mail (WV), the Cincinnati Post, Salt Lake Tribune (UT), North Adams Transcript (MA), Wichita Eagle (KS), Monterey Herald (CA), Athens Banner-Herald (GA) and the Duluth News Journal. His articles also appear on History News Network (HNN) and Think Africa Press. Mr. Lambers is a graduate of the College of Mount St. Joseph in Ohio with degrees in Liberal Arts (BA) and Organizational Leadership (MS). He is also a member of the Feeding America Blogger Council.