DEAR ABBY: I would like to thank you personally for the many years that you have striven to increase the morale of our service members stationed overseas. I am one of the individuals who benefited greatly from your efforts.

While stationed on the USS Kittyhawk (CVA-63) off the coast of Vietnam at Christmastime in 1967, I received a letter through your Operation Dear Abby that interested me. It was from a young lady living in Minnesota. I was all of 19 at the time, away from home, very lonely, and it eased my loneliness, so I started writing to her.After numerous letters, telephone calls and a visit to Minnesota, we knew we were right for each other, so we were married in the autumn of 1969, after I left the Navy.

I returned to the Navy in 1975, and now have a son who has been in the Navy for more than two years. He's stationed on an aircraft carrier in Norfolk, Va. We also have a daughter commencing her sophomore year in high school.

Abby, thank you! On Oct. 25 we will celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary, and we owe it all to you and your concern for service members stationed overseas. Keep up the excellent work! - CHARLIE IN BRUNSWICK, MAINE

DEAR CHARLIE: Congratulations to you and your family. May you have many more happy anniversaries. God bless you and yours.

DEAR ABBY: Regarding the person who requested money instead of flowers for a funeral: Japanese-Americans have a tradition called "koden." When a person dies, everyone brings envelopes containing money, which is given to the family of the deceased. The amount ranges from as little as $10 to sums in the hundreds (usually from a company or club that is familiar with that tradition). The total is usually enough to pay for the bulk, if not all, of the funeral expenses.

This was extremely helpful when my aunt died following a long and costly illness. The medical expenses drained the family's savings, and the funeral would have been too much for them to handle. The "koden" they received paid for her funeral. - F.Y.I. IN TORRANCE, CALIF.

DEAR F.Y.I.: The tradition you mention is also practiced in Hawaii and in the Philippines, and I hope it takes hold in other countries. What a wonderfully considerate gesture.