News: 'Spam Czar' sends care packages to K-Bay Marines
Story by Christine Cabalo
MARINE CORPS BASE HAWAII, Hawaii — Retired Marine 2nd Lt. Don Downer is still serving the Corps by sending hundreds of care packages to the deployed, including 2nd Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment.
Downer, a Columbia, Md., resident who served in the ‘40s and early ‘50s, has sent more than 1,444 packages to deployed Marines and other service members since 2008. He sent more than 45 packages to 2/12, after connecting with 1st Sgt. Justin Ezell, Echo Battery’s first sergeant.
“Don is almost like a legend within the battery,” Ezell said. “The fact that he has sent more than 1,400 packages overseas is amazing in itself. He was a Marine 60 plus years ago and still acts like a Marine. He appreciates every active service member’s commitment to serve.”
Downer asked Ezell for a list of Marines who seldom receive mail so he could send them some care packages while deployed to Afghanistan. As a joke, Ezell included the names of two fake “privates” with the battery. One of the packages was addressed to Capt. Matthew Richie, Echo Battery commander, 2/12, only jokingly demoting him to private.
“Ezell provided me a list,” Downer said. “It consisted of 25 Marines. I looked at the list and saw two privates. Now as soon as I saw the private ranks, I suspected that I was being had.”
Recalling his Marine Corps knowledge, Downer knew most artillerymen ended their basic training as a private first class. After he and Ezell laughed at the joke, Downer continued sending more packages to the unit. His 1,400th package was properly addressed to Richie as the Echo Battery commander.
Downer began sending his care packages after his wife passed away in 2008, as a project to keep him busy in retirement. He’s experienced first hand how a care package can be a morale booster.
“When I was deployed in China, my mom would send me care packages,” Downer said. “She would have them sent on a boat, and it would take weeks. By then the chocolate chip cookies were crumbs. Marines would gather around and eat those crumbs. Even the cookie dust was put into coffee.”
Besides chocolate chip cookies, Downer’s mother also frequently sent him Spam. After a while, Downer said he received so much he got tired of eating it. To continue with tradition, he sends the deployed troops cookies, Spam and other goodies. He’s sent out so much Spam, Downer has taken the nickname “Spam Czar.”
Richie said receiving Downer’s packages full of a variety treats has been wonderful, and the unit appreciates the cans of Spam the most.
"Don’s affinity for Spam combined with its prominence in modern Hawaiian culture makes it our favorite part of Don’s packages,” Richie said. “It connects us to past Marine Corps culture as well as our home in Hawaii.”
As Downer continues to send other units care packages, he’s also sent handmade knitted caps donated by other supporters. Both Ezell and Richie also appreciate how Downer always includes a personal letter with every package.
After sending out so much mail, Downer receives a lot of it in return. Many people who received his packages have sent him thank you letters, awards and flags flown during deployment. Downer is surprised at how many commit to sending care packages to the new units who deploy once they return.
“What has surprised me most of all is the time that the troops would take with a response to show their appreciation of receiving care packages,” Downer said. “It is awesome to me that these Marines and soldiers can find the time, between missions, patrols, ‘chowing down’ and ‘sack time’ to write a letter or send an achievement award to the ‘Spam Czar.’”
Both Ezell and Richie said while visiting the wounded Echo Battery Marines at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., they hope to meet up with Downer to thank him in person. Richie said although any mail from the states is greatly appreciated, Downer’s packages are especially treasured.
“Just to know that someone back home cares enough to take the time and spend money to send you things communicates a great deal,” Richie said. “For that individual to be a Marine such as Don makes it even more special.”
For more information about Downer’s work, see http://www.godongo.com.