Portage County man sends U.S. troops books

By Kathy Antoniotti
Beacon Journal staff writer

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Korean War veteran Tom Monroe, 70, prepares a box of books to be shipped overseas to American troops. Each month Monroe mails about 500 books to 20 or more different locations. (Karen Schiely/Akron Beacon Journal)

MANTUA TWP.: Tom Monroe believes it is nearly impossible to survive life without a good book.

An avid reader, Monroe digests as many as 10 to 15 books a month. He blames his mother for his insatiable literary appetite.

“It’s all her fault. She read to me when I was young,” Monroe, 70, said Tuesday as he packed boxes of books that soon would go out to American servicemen and servicewomen stationed around the world.

For the past 5½ years, Monroe has provided reading material to troops in twice-monthly mailings. He recently mailed book No. 60,000 overseas and has a good start on his next thousand.

On Tuesday, cardboard boxes filled the trunk and backseat of the car Monroe would drive to the Mantua post office, where employees graciously would unload them before he mailed them off to soldiers he has never met, seen or spoken to, stationed in far corners of the world.

“Soldiers aren’t always in combat. They do have some down time. I thought reading a book would give them an escape,” he said, calling the ­gesture his private way of supporting the troops.

Each month, Monroe mails about 500 books to 20 or so different units. He searches for names of soldiers and sends a box of books, introducing himself and his intention of mailing a book each month for every member of the unit.

Monroe said he learned through his own service in the Korean War what it felt like to be forgotten by people back home.

“I remembered that 25 to 30 percent of the guys over there never got anything from home,” he said.

Monroe, a member of the American Legion Post 193, said he began scouring library sales for used, cheap (50 cents each) gently read paperback books after a friend asked for advice about what he should do for his brother who was stationed overseas.

He recommended letters.

“Then I thought, ‘Why not send books, too?’ ”

Monroe, who lives in the rural Portage County township with his wife of 48 years, Ellie, will use any method available to get new names of service personnel. Generally, he finds them on the website www.anysoldier.com.

Science fiction, westerns, thrillers, spy novels, mysteries and adventure stories are requests that come back along with thanks, he said. Sometimes, soldiers will ask for specific authors, such as Tom Clancy, Louis L’Amour, Janet Evanovich and Stephen King.

“I actually got them hooked on the old Perry Mason mysteries,” Monroe said.

It might take a few days for a unit new to the program to get the hang of it, he said.

“A gunnery sergeant wrote that when the first box arrived, it just sat there. By Day Two, a few books had been taken. By the third day, the box was empty. Now, when a box arrives, he said he could just barely get the box open before they were lined up to see what’s in the truck,” Monroe said.

The Monroes’ ranch-style home is testament to his mission. Donated and purchased used paper- and hardback books line many shelves, fill cardboard boxes and are piled atop any flat surface in the home’s basement. He estimates there are more than 5,000 alphabetically sorted (by author) books waiting to be boxed and mailed.

Monroe keeps a list of the books and where they are sent so he doesn’t send duplicate titles to the same place. And he makes sure each box contains a few books written by female authors, particularly for female soldiers. They appreciate the effort, he said.

“Lady Marines do not read Harlequin romances,” Monroe added with a chuckle.

Monroe accepts books in readable condition and cash donations for mailing them. He can be reached at 330-274-0711.

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com.

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