Joe and Betty Surace are retired Marines. He spent 29 years in the Corps, from 1956 through 1985, and she followed him faithfully to various postings around the world until their tour ended in Salt Lake City, of all places, where they are now getting up and going to bed when they want to, thank you very much.
But as any Leatherneck will tell you, once a Marine, always a Marine, and even in their "leisure" years, Joe and Betty are finding that their hearts belong to the Corps.
Joe has helped establish the Marine Corps League the Marine veterans organization in Utah and Betty has been instrumental in getting the women's auxiliary up and running.
All of which brings us to their latest project: making sure every member of Fox Company that's the Marine Corps reservist unit that operates out of Fort Douglas and is scheduled to be deployed in 2009 leaves for the front with a scarf.
And not just any scarf, but a hand-stitched 3 1/2-foot-long, made-in-America, camouflage-colored wool scarf specially designed to protect against both hot, howling sandstorms and cold, moist nights.
You can run into either situation in the Middle East sometimes in the same day.
Joe and Betty don't know if the members of Fox Company are going to Afghanistan or Iraq, but they do know for sure that they are going.
"We want to give each Marine a scarf before deployment," says Joe. "The government scarves just don't do the job these woolen scarves do."
They need 150 scarves by the end of December. So far, by utilizing volunteer knitters and crocheters from a variety of senior centers, church groups and service organizations, they have 93.
This coming Saturday, they hope to have their biggest surge of the campaign when Unwind, a knitting shop in Sandy, turns over its facilities to Operation Coverup.
Store owners Corinne Alban and Sue Sharp heard about Joe and Betty's cause and offered to open their store to anyone who would like to knit or crochet a scarf. They will not only provide yarn and patterns at minimal cost, but knitting and crocheting lessons as well, if needed.
"It brings tears to my eyes, thinking who these scarves are for," says Sharp.
Unwind is located at 8621 S. Highland Drive. The phone number is 801-733-6444.
"This is a huge help to us," says Betty, who can be e-mailed for more information at [email protected].
Betty and Joe are aware that with the help of the knitting shop, they might not just reach their goal, but exceed it.
If that's the case, says Joe, "We'll just keep on going. We won't stop. We'd like to be able to give a scarf to every member of the military who is deployed from Utah."
Joe, who served in Vietnam as a helicopter crew chief in 1962, knows how comforting it can be when you're half a world away, waiting to be shot at and have a reminder from home that you're not alone.
"The guys are real appreciative of anything that reminds them that people are thinking of them and support them," he says.And if that reminder keeps the sand out and warms the cold nights, so much the better.
Lee Benson's column runs Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Please send e-mail to [email protected] and faxes to 801-237-2527.