Senior Coupon-Cutting Brigade Comes to Military's Aid

At American Legion Post #136 in Greenbelt, Carol Swahl and others sort clipped coupons before they are boxed up and shipped to military families overseas.
At American Legion Post #136 in Greenbelt, Carol Swahl and others sort clipped coupons before they are boxed up and shipped to military families overseas. (By Mark Gail -- The Washington Post)
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By William Wan
Washington Post Staff Writer  
Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Some are frail, their bodies riddled with arthritis. Others are confined to walkers or wheelchairs.

Spread out across the country is a small army of old ladies determined to do their part in the war on terror. Their weapons of choice: scissors and coupons.

They cut out a couple hundred each day, a few thousand a week, and send them to military families in the Middle East and elsewhere overseas, who redeem them at commissaries. It may not seem like much, the ladies say, but every little bit counts.

In a new era of American warfare, when people are told to support the war effort by boosting the economy by shopping or simply by going on with their lives, these women think more should be done. They are from an older generation that remembers the days of war bonds and rations, and they are trying again to make a difference, one coupon at a time.

Lila Sclawy, 87, started clipping shortly after her husband, a veteran, died in 2001 of pancreatic cancer. Four weeks later, she turned on the news to see the World Trade Center crashing down.

As the country grieved, she was looking for a way to overcome her grief. That's when she heard about the coupon ladies in Greenbelt.

They meet every Tuesday in the musty upstairs room at American Legion Post #136. Each woman brings a heaping bundle of newspaper scraps gathered from their neighbors. For hours, they comb through the coupons, sorting them by denomination -- 25 cents off, 30 cents, a dollar -- so they can keep track of how much they're sending in each box.

The coupons are honored up to six months past expiration at overseas bases, where base officials distribute them to the spouses and children of troops who sometimes struggle to make ends meet on military salaries.

It is fulfilling work, the women say, and they have letters of gratitude from as far away as Saudi Arabia and Japan to show for it. It also gives them an excuse to gather. While they cut, count and sort, they talk, a chatty discussion that meanders from beauty tips to husbands and grandchildren and eventually to their memories of wartime.

They talk about the days when their families would stretch their rations of sugar and meat, and when they wrote letters to soldiers.

Most of the women are part of the American Legion Auxiliary, wives of veterans who served during America's wars. But a few served in the military themselves. And for many of them, World War II was when they discovered what every generation inevitably learns about war -- it is brutal.

World War II was the one that put its mark on everyone who lived through it, said Sclawy, one of the oldest members of the coupon clippers. It was also the first war in which women could serve with the Army in jobs beyond nursing.

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