Remembering GIs; Local artist, vet produces T-shirts to help U.S. Troops

Mike Stone of Sweet Home wanted to do something to help U.S. soldiers in the Middle East but he was limited in his ability to do so.

Then he decided to put it on a shirt.

Stone and his wife LeAnna have created a special T-shirt to give to soldiers serving in Afghanistan and Iraq as part of care packages.

They are selling the same T-shirts locally to pay for the shirts they’re sending the soldiers.

“You’re buying one for yourself, and you’re buying one for a soldier,” said LeAnna.

“I had this idea for a while,” said Mike, who is a member of several veterans’ organizations. “I’m on disability, so I can’t help out in other ways.”

Through his Vietnam Veterans of America chapter, he heard about a care package program and decided to get on board with it.

Stone is a veteran of two tours in Vietnam, from 1969 to 1971, he said. He was a cook. During his first tour, he worked for a security-intelligence unit. During his second tour, he worked in an artillery unit in the field and in the thick of the action. He recalled a 45-day stretch being under fire, with 300 men eating C-rations.

He remembers what it was like to be on the battlefield, and that is driving his effort for today’s soldiers.

Stone calls the shirts “‘a hug from home’ because it wraps around you,” he said. “With that in mind, I drew

this up.”

The shirt features a skull, which represents the horror of war, the horrible evils the soldiers are going through. The red points in its eye sockets are the shapes of Afghanistan and Iraq. Below the skull are the outlines of a gunner on a Humvee on one side and a soldier in the desert with a Chinook helicopter in the background.

The word “Vets” is stenciled across the top.

At the bottom is written, “All gave some. Some gave all.”

An artist working in many media, Stone also is a tattooist. Those were the words he tattooed onto his stepson, Sam Huxford of Sweet Home, after Huxford returned from Afghanistan where he earned a Purple Heart. Huxford was injured in an explosion.

Two friends, Ed Daul and Rick Hines, from the Santiam Chapter of Oregon Veterans Motorcycle Association, of which Stone is president, fronted the money to get started with the T-shirts. The initial payment for 50 shirts has already been paid back.

So far, the Stones have printed 192 shirts, spending nearly $1,800, Mike said. People have been generous in buying the shirts, they said.

The T-shirts cost $20 each. Triple extra large shirts cost $25. To order a shirt or to find further information, contact the Stones at 367-7937.

All of the cash from the sale of the shirts goes to print shirts for soldiers, LeAnna Stone said. “We want them to know we’re thinking about them.”

They send notes with the shirts, she said. That way it’s more personal, and they can write back.

“What I’m worried about is the suicide rate,” Mike Stone said. Vietnam veterans have had more suicides since the war than deaths during the war.

The times are different. Technology is different. Soldiers have more direct access to home now.

But many of the same issues remain.

“No matter what war, what time, it’s tough,” he said.

Families are breaking up, Stone said. The soldiers face recurring nightmares. They are coming home to a place with no jobs.

“We have images that never leave,” he said. That leads to self-medication.

He wants to reach out to those soldiers and “to honor and respect them as veterans,” he said.

“We understand, and we do appreciate them,” LeAnna Stone said. The T-shirts show “they are appreciated by at least some of us.”