Operation Toasty Toes

Mission statement:

1. To provide hand knitted and crocheted slippers, dickeys, stocking caps, helmets, watch caps, helmet liners, and wristlets, etc., to America’s deployed service men and women.
2. To keep the public aware of the need to support our deployed troops.
3. To expand the program by encouraging more volunteers to create garments and lap robes of various sizes.
4. To encourage and assist volunteers in other states and regions with creating new chapters.
5. To foster patriotism and love of country in students and the public in general.

Next Page: Photo of troops recovering while knitting at Walter Reed Hospital.

Next Page: Photo of troops recovering while knitting at Walter Reed Hospital.

As the popularity of knitting and crocheting fluctuates, Hendersonville’s Operation Toasty Toes - Chapter 7 continues the noble tradition of providing warmth, comfort, and support for military personnel whether on land or sea and, more recently, at military medical facilities.

After the United States declared war on Germany, April 6, 1917, the government appointed the Red Cross to coordinate the thousands of women, men, and children diligently Knitting for Sammie. (American soldiers were often referred to as Sammies, short for Uncle Sam.) Over the next 20 months they produced millions of khaki (drab olive green) vests, stocking caps, wristlets (fingerless mittens), dickeys, sweaters, mittens, scarves, bandages, stump socks for amputated limbs, and socks. The need for socks was paramount: The trench warfare conditions under which the war was fought meant that soldiers spent weeks or months entrenched in wet and freezing conditions. (1) Proficient knitters produced two . . . socks at once, one inside of the other. (2)

Knitting was rigorously encouraged . . . at work, at school, at home, on public transportation, at social events, in theaters, and even in church. (3) Across the country, knitting groups gathered in homes, churches, and schools. Injured military personnel recovering in hospitals and students in grades three through twelve learned to knit. Non-knitters donated yarn and completed household duties to keep the family knitter(s) producing. Woe to knitters not completing a pair of socks in 21 days or caught knitting personal items. Seattle, Washington, knitters composed a rousing song to the tune of Over There!

When the war ended on November 11, 1918, knitting mavens returned to more challenging projects and wartime knitters permanently abandoned their needles—so they thought.

During World War II, knitting needles were one of the few metal items not confiscated for the war effort. Eleanor Roosevelt, First Knitter of the Land, launched the World War II knitting campaign at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City on September 30, 1941. Remember Pearl Harbor—Purl Harder urged weary knitters ever onward. Women replacing men in factories decreased the fulltime knitting force, but they knitted in every spare moment.

World War II knitters produced the same items as in World War I with socks again the most crucial garment: The need for socks was so great that captured American soldiers held prisoner in Germany sometimes unraveled their . . . sweaters and re-knit the yarn into socks . . . using straightened pointed barbed wire as improvised needles. (4)

To hearten the knitting forces, Glenn Miller composed and recorded Knit One, Purl Two (YouTube: glenn miller knit one purl two). And many a woman wished that she had been Cary Grant’s knitting teacher in Mr. Lucky, while men wished they looked so good behind a pair of knitting needles. (You tube: cary grant knitting mr lucky)
The war over on August 15, 1945, war-time knitters again set aside their needles while experts tackled argyle socks in bright color combinations minus khaki.

toes2Another major knitting campaign for military personnel began in 1997 when David Ward, a cryptologist on the destroyer U.S.S. CARNEY in the Persian Gulf, requested from his grandmother a supply of the slippers for which she was noted among family and friends. Recalling the ragged pair that his grandfather wore as a Korean prisoner of war, Ward requested the slippers as protection against the destroyer’s cold floors. Recently widowed, Irene Silliman, of Madison, Ohio, welcomed the diversion and an opportunity to support her grandson and his shipmates.

Assisted by two friends, Mrs. Silliman shipped 100 pairs with Operation Toasty Toes as the return address.

David wrote . . . I had guys lining up all day to get a pair . . . The commanding officer came over the ship’s IMC system . . . to tell everyone . . . how the slippers were made . . . and that we could expect about 300 pairs. . . . Just so you know . . . there are about 320 sailors on my ship.

Commanding Officer Mark H. Buzby wrote: Imagine this: The captain of a mighty warship steaming around in the middle of the Persian Gulf wearing a pair of slippers knitted by you. They must be the most comfortable thing I have ever had warming my feet. Thank you, thank you, thank you! In a subsequent letter, he stated that his slippers were always in his sea bag during deployment.

Next, Mrs. Silliman, assisted by 50 family members and friends, shipped 1,000 pairs to Bosnia, Croatia, in January 1998. Again surprised and touched by the response, Mrs. Silliman and friends continued sending slippers, renamed booties by the U.S.S. CARNEY’S sailors, as requested by deployed personnel’s families. Operation Toasty Toes rapidly expanded into a national organization of 21 chapters; unfortunately, overhead has forced some to fold.

The idea for a Hendersonville chapter originated when Patricia-Lee Pirog wrote to Mrs. Silliman in December 2001. Mrs. Silliman promptly called and mailed press releases about her chapter and copies of military letters. Operation Toasty Toes officially began in February 2002 when Hazel McDermott and Chris McFadden responded to Patricia-Lee’s Times-News’ Letter to the Editor; Sigi Hendrickson of Saluda joined soon afterwards.

Rather than a governing board, a committee meets monthly at Patricia-Lee’s home in Flat Rock for a business meeting. Afterwards, they inspect each garment for quality, confirm that a logo with the volunteer’s name was attached, and pack boxes. Current committee members are Nancy Bayless, Muriel Clarkin, Shirley Coren, Pat Daveluy, Madeline Farrell, Doris Garren, Stacey Gillette, Sue Griffin, Sigi Hendrickson, Willie Hinkel, Kelly Hogan, Carol Muir, Kristi Murphy, Sue Myers, Dolores Nuss, Patricia Pirog, Elfriede Reisner, Marge Reed, Trully Safrit, Leslie Skowronek¸ Randye Unsell, and Jane Sheaves. Besides her monthly duties, each woman knits and/or crochets numerous garments for deployed troops.

Supporting the committee are 82 volunteers (as of publication date), working individually and in teams. Supporting subgroups are currently located in the Tryon Estates, which sponsors a yearly fundraiser; 2) the Saluda Senior Center; 3) Landrum, South Carolina; and 4) Anderson, South Carolina. Pattie Cameron, Lead RSVP Coordinator for Buncombe County under the auspices of Land of Sky Council, coordinates subgroups in Buncombe, Henderson, Madison, and Transylvania counties. Her newest additions are Cathey Corner’s Community Center in Rosman and the Transylvania Silvermont group.

Since Operation Toasty Toes’ chapters operate independently, Chapter 7 established local protocols. First, they added rubber soles to the booties for additional insulation and safety on slippery floors.

As word of Operation Toasty Toes spread, Chapter 7 received numerous inquiries from women willing to make troop garments, but who only crocheted. Rather than turning them away, all patterns are converted to crocheting instructions.

Finally, Chapter 7 continually adds garments to their inventory, many based on Knit for Victory, published in 1943 by The New York Spool Company in Manhattan. The valuable reference long out of print, a volunteer, whose mother knitted prodigiously during WWII, permitted Chapter 7 to duplicate her mother’s copy.

Basing their prototypes on the Knit for Victory pattern, Chapter 7 added wristlets to their inventory to solve a crucial problem. Former Congressman Charles Taylor reported that soldiers cut off the trigger finger on gloves too heavy to fit through the trigger guard. Though the government has since supplied lighter weight gloves, the soldiers still wear the wristlets for added warmth.

A soldier, returning from duty in Iraq, asked Chapter 7 if they could provide face protection from the incessantly blowing sand that blinded troops and burned their skin. Of the three balaclavas that Chapter 7 designed, the full-face garment with an eye slit proved the most flexible and protective.

From Chapter 7’s willingness to explore new methods, four means of supporting troops gradually emerged. For active military personnel: booties, dickeys, headbands, stocking caps, watch caps, balaclavas (also called helmets or face masks), and wristlets (fingerless mittens). Per military regulations, all color combinations for the booties are acceptable but all other ground force garments must be variegated green or neutral camouflage, solid brown, olive green, forest green, toasted almond, or dark gray. Navy garments are always black, and the traditional two-inch cuff is added to the watch cap. Especially admirable in Chapter 7’s protocol is their dedication to homeless and injured veterans. Long a dedicated volunteer, Muriel Clarkin, after she could no longer knit in the traditional manner, learned to loom knit using two strands. Her stocking caps too thick to fit under the helmets of active troops, the commander of American Legion Post 526 in East Asheville eagerly accepted them when asked by Joe Pirog. Muriel now keeps Post 526 supplied in caps and scarves.

In response to garments received at a medical facility in Iraq, U. S. Army Nurse Lauren requested colorful lap robes in various sizes for her patients. The committee not only seconded Patricia-Lee’s motion, but decided that veterans in neighboring rehabilitation units also deserved lap robes. Hundreds have been delivered depending on who travels in what direction. Patricia-Lee and Leslie Skowronek have delivered lap robes to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center Soldier and Family Assistance Center in Fort Gordon Georgia; Truly Safrit to Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and Jane Sheaves to Fort Bragg, North Carolina. When asked about restrictions, Patricia-Lee replied: “Knit or crochet any pattern measuring approximately 48 x 60 inches or 28 x 36 inches with colorful, washable yarn, but no fringe.” Attached to every lap robe is a logo tag thanking them for their service and wishing them a speedy recovery.

On Thursday, December 11, Patricia-Lee and her husband Joe will present 178 lap robes to the Warrior Transition Program at the Fort Gordon Military Reservation in Georgia. The Warrior Transition Command develops, coordinates, and integrates the Army’s Warrior Care and Transition Program for wounded, ill, and injured soldiers and veterans plus their families or caregivers to promote success in the force or civilian life. Vice Commander Robert Taylor of American Legion Post 205 assured Patricia that a soldier awaits every lap robe.

Continued next month. Meantime, knitters and crocheters interested in investigating Toasty Toes will find the patterns for all garments on their website.

e-mail: info@operationtoastytoes.org
Website: operationtoastytoes.org

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