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Toys give soldiers tool to win hearts of Iraqis

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New Richmond, 54017
New Richmond Wisconsin 127 South Knowles Avenue 54017

Hundreds of toys will soon be in the hands of Iraqi children, thanks to a toy collection recently completed in New Richmond.

The American Legion Post 80 shipped out 39 boxes filled with Match-Box and Hot Wheels cars, along with small dolls and stuffed animals, to soldiers stationed in Iraq. The boxes were sent July 1 and 5.

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About 2,330 small toys were sent directly to Company B, 1st Battalion 128th Infantry members from the New Richmond National Guard Armory.

About 120 toys were shipped to the Battalion Medical Platoon and 220 toys to the battalion commander.

Toy drive organizers had hoped to gather 1,000 toys for the shipment.

Donations came streaming in from East and West elementaries in New Richmond, St. Mary's School, St. Anne's School in Somerset, Osceola schools, local civic organizations and individuals.

According to Chuck Mehls, who coordinated the Legion's drive, the toys go a long way toward developing a bond with Iraqi youth.

"I'm very happy with the way it all turned out. I want to support my old unit as much as I can," Mehls said of Company B. "I feel I'm doing all I can to help out."

Mehls said news reports are limited to burning vehicles following car bombings, but there's more to the war story than the nightly update.

"It's difficult for a New Richmond resident to picture a 16-year-old Iraqi boy with burn-scarred hands from acid poured on them by Saddam Hussein's security guards," Mehls explained, "because several years ago his family did not take part in a public demonstration supporting Hussein.

"Now the boy sees soldiers in a different uniform giving toys to his younger brothers and sisters and befriending his family. These are the scenes that the public does not see on TV."

The Legion has a few remaining toys to ship out, so anyone still interesting in donating to the cause can contact Mehls. The drive will officially close down at the end of July.

"That will be the end of that project," Mehls said. "Then maybe we'll do something else."

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