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NC woman returns kindness she recalls from WWII

BEAUFORT (AP) — Maria Myers, 74, has never forgotten the kindness American soldiers showed her German family during World War II when she was 4 years old.
Myers, now an American citizen, has dedicated her life to helping U.S. soldiers in an effort to thank them.
As well as being married to two U.S. Air Force members over the years, she had three sons in the military, one who was killed while serving, and has served as president of the VFW women’s auxiliary for many years.
But eight years ago, she took on another project that has made her well known to service members deploying from Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point.
Myers, using mainly her own money, provides cookies, sandwiches and coffee to service men and women deploying from Cherry Point.
“They call me the Cookie Lady. Sometimes I’m out there at 1, 2, 3, 4 a.m., it doesn’t matter. When they need me, I go,” she said Friday as she sat in her home, filled with patriotic decorations, located in Russells Creek.
Myers, with assistance from her husband Dan, retired U.S. Air Force and commander of VFW Post 2401 in Beaufort, bakes cookies and prepares sandwiches in their kitchen to take to the soldiers. She also gets help from a friend in Swansboro, Betty Mace.
But it mainly falls on Myers’ shoulders, and she doesn’t mind one bit. Her kitchen is filled with bags of cookies she’s baked and keeps ready for the numerous emails she receives alerting her that a group of soldiers are preparing to leave.
“I always try to keep some cookies ready because they can deploy at any time,” she said.
When asked how many cookies she has served to soldiers, she said, “Thousands and thousands.”
She gave the same reply when asked how many service men and women she has served.
To her, it’s the right thing to do to thank them for their service to the nation.
“When I see their faces, that’s the only thanks I need. They’re going off to war, fighting for our freedom,” she said.
She admits many times she remembers the U.S. Army captain who befriended her family during World War II in Bonn, Germany. It was an unusual friendship born from unusual circumstances in 1944.
She said her family’s house in Bonn was destroyed when a bomb hit it. She, her parents, numerous siblings and two grandmothers moved into a shack in a nearby valley. Her father, a German soldier, had taken leave to come home and tend to his family after their house was destroyed.
It was during that time that American troops came and set up camp in the same valley.
“The Americans were searching houses, and they came to ours. Our father was dressed in his uniform because all of our clothes had been destroyed when the bomb hit our house,” she said.
Myers said when the soldiers came into the shack, her father stood in front of his family holding a gun to protect them.
“The captain spoke German and told my father that if he would put down his gun, they would give him civilian clothes and leave us alone,” she said.
Her father agreed, and he never reported back to his unit. Instead, the family forged a unique friendship with the soldiers, even sharing meals with them.
“I was happy because I got gum and chocolate,” she said. “The soldiers would give my dad cigarettes and coffee, and he would exchange it for wine for the troops.”
As the war came to a close, she said the captain and her father became good friends. Then one day, “The captain came in and picked up my mother and began swinging her around and yelled, ‘The war is over.’ Then all of the churches in the valley began ringing their bells.”
As troops staged down and went back home, her family began to rebuild their lives. But she never forgot the kindness of that captain. She regrets that her family lost touch with him, and she has often thought about trying to find him.
“I always said he was the first man I loved,” she said.
Myers said, from the time she met the American soldiers, she determined in her heart to move to America.
At age 23, she married an American Air Force member who was stationed in Germany. She spent 20 years as a military wife, eventually settling with her first husband at Seymour Johnson Air Force base in Goldsboro. They eventually divorced, and she remarried Dan Myers, who was also serving at Seymour Johnson.
After he retired from the Air Force, Dan Myers got a job at the former Naval Aviation Depot at Cherry Point. The couple moved to Carteret County in 1983.
During her years as a military wife, Myers volunteered with many organizations that support the troops, including the VFW and American Legion.
While she has paid a cost to her nation by being a military wife and volunteering thousands of hours to assist the troops, she paid an even higher price when one of her sons, Capt. Donald Lee, a U.S. Army helicopter pilot, was killed in a helicopter accident while serving at Fort Hood, Texas, in 1997.
“They were coming back after being deployed somewhere when it happened,” she said.
After the accident, then President Bill Clinton came to Fort Hood to talk with her daughter-in-law and grandchildren. She has a photograph of President Clinton shaking hands with one of her grandsons.
“He was telling my grandson that he lost his father when he was young, too. My daughter-in-law said there were tears in his eyes when he talked to him,” she said.
Myers has also been kissed twice by former President George W. Bush when she attended a VFW national convention.
“He was our speaker and he kissed my cheek,” she said. “I told him I was a Gold Star Mother (mothers whose children died while serving in the military), and he came back and kissed me again.”
While she has a room filled with plaques and awards she has received over the years for her service to the troops, none is more precious to her than one.
“My biggest award is my American citizenship,” she said, which she received April 13, 1981.
Myers said, as long as her health holds out and she is needed, she plans to continue providing food and coffee to soldiers.
Those who would like to donate toward her effort are welcome to do so by sending checks, made payable to VFW Auxiliary 2401, with a memo that it’s for the “troop fund.” Checks can be mailed to: Attention, Maria Myers, VFW Auxiliary 2401, 107 Earl Ave., Beaufort, N.C. 28516.

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