December 28th, 2009
06:02 PM ET

Meet the troops' 92-year-old pen pal


Update: Many readers have asked how they can write to the troops themselves. The Department of Defense offers a page with resourses to help you send letters and messages as well as a form that will allow you to email the troops. Some readers have also chimed in with their favorite methods in the comments.

A few weeks ago, my mom called asking, "Have you heard what Bob Cooper's mom is doing?" Bob Cooper was the baseball coach at my high school. His mom Alleen, whom I'd never met, is a 92-year-old great-grandma. She's also a fiercely independent widow who lives on her own in the Lakewood, California, home where she raised two boys.

"She's writing the troops," my mom says, "during the last two years she's written them more than 2,000 letters." I call Alleen myself and quickly learn this isn't her first foray into writing soldiers. "I started during World War II," she tells me. Now, nearly 70 years later, she's decided "it's time to show my support to the troops of this century." My next phone call is to my boss at CNN who agrees to send a camera crew.

Before we arrive, I've checked into where Alleen's letters are heading – one to a solider so badly burned he's receiving prosthetic ears in a Houston Army hospital, another to a Marine first sergeant who is the father of two girls and preparing to deploy to Afghanistan, and many more to 18, 19 and 20-year-old troops. I wonder what this 92-year-old has to say to all these Marines and soldiers who are worlds away and generations removed.

Alleen answers the door wearing thick bifocal glasses and dressed in red, white and blue - right down to her striped shoelaces. She takes us back to the kitchen table where she'd just been writing a female soldier, and settles behind a plastic tablecloth covered with lined stationery and notes scribbled in her shaky hand. Then she picks up that letter she's been writing and starts to tell us about it. Her topic: her son's growing collection of reusable shopping bags.

I ask Alleen what else she writes about and she throws up her hands dramatically, "Oh my goodness," she says, "I tell everything."

"I write a lot about the weather and just ordinary things that are happening. I tell them I'm a grandma, I tell them about my sons and about my husband who died." Alleen says her letters are never profound - just hearty slices of home for troops far away. She makes them all at least a good four pages long and tucks snippets of comics and headlines into the fat envelopes. Her letters have quickly become the equivalent of comfort food to the troops. And they keep forwarding Alleen the names of other Marines and soldiers to add to her list.

They've also responded with hundreds of personal letters (she keeps every one), with teddy bears and flowers, and even the flag that flew over one of their bases. Alleen says at this point in her life she never expected to receive anything "so elegant, so important as gifts from soldiers."

But her biggest thank-you yet comes on the day our camera crews are there. A Marine first sergeant who's about to head to Afghanistan, whom Alleen has been writing for nearly two years, has come to finally meet Alleen in person. She waits by the door as his car pulls up. "It's him. I know it," she says. First Sgt. David Adams led 300 Marines in Iraq and Alleen wrote to many of them. "It takes a toll on the young kids, sometimes they just need somebody to talk to," Adams tells me. Today as he opens the screen door and reaches out to embrace Alleen she smiles and her voice cracks, "Oh, I'm so glad you came."

Adams says Alleen has become "near and dear to his heart" and reminds him of his own grandmother who passed away. It's a connection many of Alleen's troops say they feel and why Alleen says she keeps writing though her eyes get tired and her hands sore.

But it isn't until we're sitting face-to-face that I fully understand the importance of that connection. For the first time Alleen shares she was a letter writer during yet another conflict. All through the Vietnam war Allean wrote to a single soldier – her younger son Larry. She says from the time he was drafted she was "devastated" and "fearful." Larry survived the war, but he has battled post traumatic stress disorder and serious physical problems ever since.

Alleen's older son Bob has come to the interview to support his mother and says his brother is proud of her efforts. Bob says at the time of Larry's service, "America was kind of divided. And when the men came back they weren't treated like heroes. So I think this was really a big thing for her that somebody starts caring."

Alleen has been showing her support now for more than half a century. "They're our honor" she tells me, "and do you know some of these soldiers don't even get mail from their family and some of them don't even have a family."

It's why she says she'll be at her kitchen table writing as long as there are troops who need her, "when I get so I can't write and can't think good well then I'll have to quit of course but so far I don't have any plans."

soundoff (41 Responses)
  1. Orgaddign

    I am just writing to make you be aware of of the extraordinary discovery our girl had using your web site. She even learned too many things, including what it is like to have an ideal giving mindset to get most people very easily have an understanding of specific very confusing subject areas. You really did more than visitors' desires. I appreciate you for coming up with the warm and helpful, safe, explanatory as well as unique tips about that topic.I'll check back at afghanistan.blogs.cnn.com for more later. exercise cycle

    March 30, 2011 at 5:47 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Chris Kiracofe

    Its kind of funny about an hour ago, I'm staring at this letter from this woman I don't know and have never talked to. A letter exactly as its described in this article, with Alleen's name as the sender. She tells me about an interview with CNN, among many other things. Luckily I have internet access where I work, so I google her name and find this. I feel honored that I received a letter from such a special woman, and can definitely see why her family speaks so highly of her. Thank you for all of the others out there who support us as much as Alleen does.
    Other ways for us to request penpals, are adoptasoldier, or anymarine if you'd like to contact the troops.

    April 17, 2010 at 6:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Tim

    I think it's great that she cares so much about our troops.

    February 7, 2010 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Elizabeth Cooper

    Correction to my earlier comment. Alleen lives in California not Colorado.......

    January 29, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Report abuse |
  5. roseanne Tippet

    when i saw this cnn new video of alleen I was not surprised. I just happen to live next door to this wonderful woman. The letters she writes is just the beginning of how wonderful she is. She never has a negative word to say about anything or anyone. she works in her beautiful garden everyday, takes time to talk to all the neighbors, and always has a smile on he face and laughter in her voice. I even hear her talking on the phone and to other friends and neighbors, I can hear her laughing and sharing the joy in life. She spends time everyday writing to the troops and loves every minute of it. She was so proud when she received a flag that actually flew over a part of the country where a soldier/pen pal fought for america. She talks to me about what the soldiers talk about in their letters to her. She is so dedicated to her writing, even more than the video can begin to express. I always look to her for inspiration of how to live my life (and of course her tips on gardening).

    January 26, 2010 at 6:37 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Breeze Patten

    Alleen is my grandmother and what a wonderful woman she is in so many ways. She starting this incredible letter campaign 2 years ago after the loss of my grandfather, Ed. I can remember her asking me to look online at how she would get started. My amazement comes from how detailed she is and how she keeps notebooks of notes on each soldier she is writing to. Ask her when she first sent the letter, when she got her first reply, what she included in each letter, etc. It is all written down in the notebook so that no soldier gets the same letter twice. She is incredible!
    Besides the letter writing she is a magical seamstress and quilter. I can remember the many very intricate doll dresses she made for me almost 30 years ago. I have many hand-made quilts and hanging I will cherish forever. Alleen is also a wonderful cook. I can never get enough of the wonderful cookies and fudge,
    What can I say? I just hope I have as much spunk, talent and energy as she does at 91! I love you grandma Alleen!

    January 7, 2010 at 1:00 am | Report abuse |
  7. Elizabeth Cooper

    Alleen is my husband's Aunt and lives in Colorado. She was married to Harvey's Father's brother Ed. Harvey's Father is 93 and lives in Carthage Missosuri. He is married to Eula Mae Cooper. Alleen keeps us posted on everything that is going on in the family and especially about her letter writing. She is such a loving and caring person. Sending all these letters of hope and inspiration to servicemen is such an unselfish act. She inspires me to think of others and to consider writing some letters myself to our brave men and women in the military.

    January 4, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ron and Rox Burnett

    Aunt Alleen...YOU are a hero and you make us so proud! When we come out to visit we are always amazed at your excitement and how truly committed you are to this important work. As an Air Force veteran it's actions like yours that make my eyes tear up and reaffirm my love for this great country and the great heros in the Armed Services. Stay with your passion and you will never tire. You will make many people feel loved.
    We love you! Ron & Rox

    December 31, 2009 at 6:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dorothy

    Thanks to those who have offered websites that provide names and addresses of soldiers we can write to. As a former third grade teacher I know this can be an amazing opportunity for teachers to combine lessons on writing and compassion. My students had an amazing connection to those serving on the USS Forrestal back in the 1990's....all because of simple Christmas cards/notes that we wrote. By years end we had not only exchanged more letters with those on the aircraft carrier, but the head of Chicago's Naval office traveled to central Illinois to speak with my students and teach them a bit more about the people they had been corresponding with. The letter writing impacted not only the soldiers but my students as well.

    If you are a teacher, or know a teacher, please get these lists of email addresses to them and ask them to consider making this a part of their writing curriculum. Replies from soldiers to their student can be sent to the school address which would speak to any concerns about privacy issues. My students' parents were the ones who determined whether their child gave out their home address.....MANY of themdid just that and continued writingto their soldier well past their time in my third grade class.

    Dorothy

    December 31, 2009 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Grace Baez

    I am an army wife and am definitely touched by this woman. My heart goes out to the soldiers overseas and I understand how it is to be a wife at home worried 24/7. I am in the air national guard and I believe that this kind of support is wonderful. God Bless Alleen.

    December 31, 2009 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Elizabeth

    After seeing this story, I decided I need to write a letter to encourage our soldiers. I found a website anysoldier.com which gathers lists of soldiers and troops who rarely, if ever, recieve mail and gives letters written by people like me. It also lets you send care packages. I put my letter in the mail two days ago and already have plans to write more. Thanks to Ms. Alleen for showing us all a thing or two about appreciating our freedom and loving the ones who make that possible! Well done!

    December 31, 2009 at 9:49 am | Report abuse |
  12. Allan

    You are a real grandma! Keep up the good example mom! You are a hero too like the soldiers!

    December 31, 2009 at 6:13 am | Report abuse |
  13. Kanessa Trent

    As I sit in Afghanistan in the 11th month of my tour, tears come easily as I read this article. What a wonderful thing for Alleen Cooper to do for troops. The letters and cards we receive from home are displayed prominently on our walls and doors for all to read and share. Pen pals like Alleen are a blessing. Thank you Ms. Cooper for your support and devotion to our troops worldwide. May God Bless you. From one Soldier in Afghanistan, I thank you. :-), Kanessa

    December 31, 2009 at 4:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Robert Borowski

    Hi CNN,
    Thanks for this wondeful heart warming story. You are a hero Miss Alleen,God Bless you for what your are doing. As a retired Navy Captain having served 28 years in the Navy and reserves, I remember how important it was to receive letters from my parents and family. I want to write and get the members of my Key Club in the high school I teach at to write as well! This is a wondeful story, thanks for the good news. I wish everyone a Happy, and Healthy New Year!

    December 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Susie Rodriguez

    Thank you very much Ms. Alleen!! You are an inspiration! I have a 19 yr. old in Afghanistan that is in the Army. He's been there since April. I am extrememly PROUD of him! You are doing an amazing job!!

    December 30, 2009 at 9:29 am | Report abuse |
  16. Kate Nolan

    Wonderful article. I've been a supporter with adoptaplatoon.org for years. The soldiers say it means the world if even for a small card to show up with their name on it.

    December 30, 2009 at 8:43 am | Report abuse |
  17. Eugene

    Wow, that sweet little old lady is a saint!

    December 30, 2009 at 2:45 am | Report abuse |
  18. Rachael

    soldiersangels.com is a great website I my self was adopted a few weeks ago from a young lady and it is great to be reciving letters from her she emails me all the time as well as snail mail it just makes me happy to know that there are people out there who want to show so much support. Another website is anysoldier.com I personelly have not used that website but I know that many soldiers in my unit uses them.

    December 30, 2009 at 2:01 am | Report abuse |
  19. mrs, merrill banfield

    my husband and i have send boxes to around 150 marines and a few amry navy and air force guys. our son is a marine so most of the names came from his unit ,but i also adopt off the soldier's angel web site. they have as high as 2000 soldiers waiting to get adopted. I just received an email from my fist soldier's wife that i adopted like 3 years ago.I emailed him and his wife. at christmas I bought gifts for his girls and send paper and tape so he could wrap them and send them home. I hope it makes the soldier feel more a part of his kids christmas even if he isn't at home. It is a total family that gets deployed not just the soldier. I love everyone of the soldiers for what they do for us. God Bless them!!!

    December 29, 2009 at 10:01 pm | Report abuse |
  20. M Haswgawa Menber of SCIP M.A.I.P.S.E(Nihon Unv)/ CIS JSCI Dorector.

    I touch deeply moved her action.
    We shoud be learn from her.
    I am sure her action make world peace.
    Safe world make her action.
    Thank you for her wonderful action to US
    the bravwst of the bgave.

    December 29, 2009 at 9:01 pm | Report abuse |
  21. grammyammy

    What an inspiration this wonderful woman is, her family is blessed to have such a wonderful mother and grandmother. This story brought tears to my eyes. Keep up the writing I hope for many more years.

    December 29, 2009 at 7:04 pm | Report abuse |
  22. L Conner

    In the prior post...it may also be soldierangels.com It has been awhile since I used it as I have family members I write to that are serving

    December 29, 2009 at 5:56 pm | Report abuse |
  23. L Conner

    Another site for the troops is soldiersangels.com They can connect you to troops and you can send care packages and letters to them.

    December 29, 2009 at 5:55 pm | Report abuse |
  24. Bob and Corky Cooper

    Mom....We are all so proud of you. You have spent your whole life giving and taking care of others...All your kids, grandkids and great-grandkids are so exicited and proud of you. Thanks for being a great mom, grandma and Great-grandma...We Love You...

    December 29, 2009 at 12:33 pm | Report abuse |
  25. Sandra Barrett

    OK – seems like we all need to put a little loving pressure on CNN to get more involved in this 'campaign' so we all can support our troops more effectively and actively. That's my mission for today – I will call and write CNN. We need a starting point to get our letter writing off the ground. What a way to not only show appreciation for the dedication of our soldiers but to also keep the "U" in USA for us the citizens of this great country! We have to be united so our soldiers can do their jobs more effectively.

    December 29, 2009 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  26. Dawn Ibarra

    How does one get started writing letters to the troops? i've been wanting to do this for some time but don't know the process; can you help me get started?

    December 29, 2009 at 9:52 am | Report abuse |
  27. Tricia Roberts

    Hi
    I too was inspried by Mrs. Alleen's support to write to the troops. Can she or someone please tell me how to get started in doing this also. That was the most amazing thing! May God Bless her and the troops always.
    Sincerely- Tricia
    Florida

    December 29, 2009 at 9:42 am | Report abuse |
  28. parker boerner

    echoing sandra barrett's request, how can we get names or squadrons or area fpo's so we can send letters too

    December 29, 2009 at 9:05 am | Report abuse |
  29. Michael Scriver

    Im a soldier currently on my second tour to Iraq. For those asking about just starting to write to soldiers in Iraq Go to anysoldier.com its a great site they can help u get started

    December 29, 2009 at 8:50 am | Report abuse |
  30. tamika

    i too would like to write to the troops. please let me know how to get started.

    December 29, 2009 at 8:46 am | Report abuse |
  31. Stephanie R

    I too would love to be a pen pal to a soldier. A little heart goes far for people who have seen war, I have family in the Navy, and have had family in many different branches of the military going far back to before my father was born. ( I am 30) I myself know several soldiers and many many many vets, one of which has survived 3 wars (WWII, Korean, and Vietnam) and he always said letters from home just helped you escape for a while, made you remember why you wanted to join in the first place. So much like Sandra please if I could get an address, or contact info on how to get an addressn please let me know.

    December 29, 2009 at 7:50 am | Report abuse |
  32. Craig Cummings

    Her generation understands sacrifices that the military & families pay every day! As a Vet of Nam, I would like to find out more & how to get addresses to the soldiers! I hear people talking about supporting the troops but thats all. I know that there are citizens that really do support the troops but they don't advertise! She represents the better half of our society.

    December 29, 2009 at 7:46 am | Report abuse |
  33. Jenna

    This was really sweet. Most of us can't even write one letter to the people we KNOW over there.
    This lady is awesome.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:51 am | Report abuse |
  34. AvsFan

    At http://www.booksforsoldiers.com, we have several grandmothers, mothers, and many hundreds of others who write letters, send care packages, and books, movies, and magazines to our troops. In order to participate, everyone is required to fill out an official volunteer application, get it notarized, and send it in. After that, the closed portions of our website allow our volunteers access to hundreds of new requests every month.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:39 am | Report abuse |
  35. GA

    Extraordinary.

    If you can´t find troops, try to visit orphans at your closest orphanage. Or go and play board games at your local home for retired people. It´s the small things that are the big things.

    December 29, 2009 at 4:16 am | Report abuse |
  36. Dorothy

    I too would love to write these kind of letters but have no idea where to get addresses. A follow up story telling how to find out the names/addresses of soldiers would be wonderful!!

    December 29, 2009 at 2:29 am | Report abuse |
  37. Nicole

    Thanks for spreading the word about such positive and thoughtful people as Alleen. I agree with Sandra- I'd like to write too! I thought about it in the past but also didn't know how to get started.....any information on this would be appreciated!

    December 29, 2009 at 2:12 am | Report abuse |
  38. Chaya van Essen

    One doesn't need to be a supporter of the war to be a supporter of the soldiers who go over there and risk their lives, or to be a supporter of the soldiers who remain here and are ready to defend our country at a moment's notice. I think it's beautiful and inspiring what Mrs. Cooper is doing – and we need to support our troops in every way we can regardless of our political views.

    December 29, 2009 at 1:34 am | Report abuse |
  39. Rachael

    It is great that there are people like Mrs. Cooper in the world to support our troops me personaly am now serving in Afgahnistan and I can say a letter or a package from home just lights up the day and brings a smile to my face. Just knowing that there are people who think of us. Thank you Mrs. Cooper for your support!!

    December 29, 2009 at 1:18 am | Report abuse |
  40. JoAnn

    Mrs. Cooper is a wonderful lady and I am so very proud of what she is doing to support our Troops. Our family lived next door to her over 30 years ago and I still stay in touch with her. She is a true friend and such a nice lady that one doesn't meet a person like Mrs. Cooper but once in their lifetime.

    December 29, 2009 at 12:37 am | Report abuse |
  41. Sandra Barrett

    After reading the article on Alleen and watching the video I now want to write letters to our troops. Can Alleen please tell me how to get started. How do I get that first address to write to – how do I find out which soldiers need someone to correspond with them? What a wonderful thing for her to do – she has become my inspiration!

    December 28, 2009 at 11:26 pm | Report abuse |