For the boys

Local couple sending a 'little bit of home' to soldiers in Iraq

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The question -- why? -- is simple. The answer is far from it.

Chris Anthony, a Craig resident and former Army veteran, remembers the hollow sadness that washed over her when broken soldiers returned home from the Vietnam War in the 1970s.

She remembers the same empty feeling coming over her in April 2004 when hearing that her "surrogate," Marine Pfc. Chance Phelps, had been killed in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"Why are we doing this?" she said. "Because (American soldiers) said they'd go over there and fight for us, fight for what this country stands for. ... Whether people are against this war or not, that's political. We've lost kids from this town, kids from a lot of towns.

"So, I don't think we're doing anything special. We're just saying, 'here's a little bit of home.'

"And, baseball is the all American sport, you know."

Chris and Mike Anthony, the owners of Instant Replay Sports, both of whom served in the Armed Forces, are preparing a shipment of sporting goods to send to soldiers overseas in the coming weeks.

And they're not just talking about a few stray bats and balls, either.

Chris Anthony said the shipment would include about 20 to 25 baseball bats and gloves (enough for a whole team, she said), soccer equipment, six to 12 footballs and a few dozen boxes of baseballs.

The Anthonys, who are in the process of closing down Instant Replay Sports after a successful two-and-a-half year run, are using some of their leftover stock as part of the shipment. They're also buying new goods to send as part of the shipment.

Mike Anthony enlisted in the Army in 1974 and served three years. Chris enlisted in 1976, a year after Vietnam ended, and served until 1979. She said the country's wounds from Vietnam hadn't begun to heal when she joined the Army, memories that still register with sadness.

As do memories of Phelps, who attended Moffat County High School, and whom Chris got to know through the community. Phelps was shot and killed April 9, 2004, west of Baghdad after the convoy he was protecting was ambushed.

Anthony said she keeps Phelps, and the soldiers who are still in Iraq fighting, on her mind. Sending the sports gifts is one way of giving thanks, she said.

"He was such a wonderful child," she said, fighting back tears. "To lose him at 19 was just terrible."

The local American Legion Post will assist the Anthonys in getting the sports goods to soldiers in Iraq. The legion post also distributes items to soldiers, commander Mel Shockley said; every month the post sends over recent magazines from the states.

Shockley, a Vietnam veteran, can relate to the loneliness a soldier overseas can feel while thousands of miles from home, and the lift in spirit a gift from the states can induce.

In Vietnam, he said, books were passed back and forth between soldiers so many times that "there was nothing left of the ink but black smudge.

"It was fantastic," he said. "We loved it. The books we had looked like they were 200 years old."

The contributions by the Anthonys will be well received in Iraq, the post commander said.

"I think it's terrific they're doing this," Shockley said.

Chris Anthony said she's unsure how much it will cost to send the soldiers the equipment. Expenses, she said, are irrelevant.

"There are a lot of kids over there," she said. "I don't really care what it costs to get shipped over there. Hopefully it will stay where it lands."

The idea of sending the equipment overseas occurred to the Anthonys when a family friend, whose son is fighting in Iraq, wrote home asking his family to send his baseball, mitt and bat to the Middle East so he could fill some free time.

"Then it just kind of hit us," Chris Anthony said. "We should have thought of it before then."

Joshua Roberts can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 210, or jroberts@craigdailypress.com.

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