We receive many letters from contributors, area residents, and our military that are so appreciated. Here are just a few. See also the Thank You category on this site in our blog for more letters. To send us your letter, visit our Contact page or post a comment in the open thread for notes of appreciation.

The following letter was received from Lee County Commissioner John Manning in response to the news coverage of the Fairy Tale Wedding Captain Bunch, Pink Shell Resort and others provided on Fort Myers Beach.

Capt. Bunch,

I had just finished reading this wonderful story in The Pine Island Eagle about Caitlin and Sgt. Gabriel Lopez’s weddingWhat the Operation Open Arms organization and you do for these families is truly commendable.   I have followed the great things that your organization has done for our young military couples over the past few years and applaud you and those who volunteer their services with your organization.  Keep up the wonderful job!

Also, thank you for your kind words about Bob Janes.  He left big shoes for me to fill and I will always appreciate his kindness towards me and his friendship.

Commissioner John Manning

District One Office
Lee County Board of County Commissioners

Here is a heart warming letter from an OOA supporter and perhaps the most creative fund-raising we’ve seen. Our thanks for Vanessa “Queenie” Viglione for bringing good fortune to our troops! (Click the letter to view a larger version.)

The following was the main letter in the Editorial Section of the Ft Myers News-Press. S/Sgt Underwood arrived back in Capt Victory on Dec 24th. The News-Press made special arrangements to have the letter published on Christmas Day. Enjoy!

My recent visit to Lee County was direct from Camp Victory, Iraq. I love Florida’s warm weather, and when I was planning my R&R from Iraq, I wanted to visit. I live in Missouri and it’s cold there in December. I found a hotel to stay the night. There, I met a gentleman named Sharples. He asked me if I knew anything about Operation Open Arms. I promised to check out the Web site; he promised to have a representative from OOA call me.

The next day the founder of Operation Open Arms called me and immediately offered free lodging, free meals at restaurants, and even a free haircut plus free dentistry if I needed it.

I was overwhelmed with this gesture of generosity and could not quite comprehend such benefits being extended to a perfect stranger. The last full day before I had to return to Iraq, Mike Dopslaff at Arrowhead Golf Club invited me for a free round of golf and lunch.

I want to thank Operation Open Arms founder Capt. John “GiddyUp” Bunch and all the generous people who were so kind and caring to me and my family.

I cannot wait to tell my fellow warriors about the kind and caring people of Lee County and especially Bonnie at the Beach Barbershop on Fort Myers Beach who repaired my hair after it was “groomed” by a well-intended Pakistani.

I also want to thank Mr. Sharples for telling me all about this great program that serves U.S. troops on their combat leave.

U.S. Army National Guard
Contract Office Representative
MNC-I C-4 Plans, Camp Victory, Iraq, March 2008

Hello John,

I just wanted to write you a letter to personally thank you. I am CW3 Michael Taylor. I fly UH-60L Blackhawks. I am writing you from Camp Taji Iraq. I’m from Florida and I own a house in North Port and a friend of mine sent me a link. His name is Scott Irby. He sings lead in the band Due South. I just want to thank you for just the chance to fish with you, I have a busy schedule and I would love to fish but when I come home on leave I would just like to spend time with my wife and kids but just the opportunity being there thanks you. I currently live in Fort Hood Texas and have a house there. When I do come to Florida I would love to shake your hand in person. when I leave the army after retirement I want to start a charter. Thank you for shedding light on a sore subject. Some people don’t get the good things that happen here and the many troops that die without the chance to say thanks. Thanks John.

Sincerely CW3 Michael Taylor

From Carol Rouse, Military Mom

From Connie Mack, Member of Congress, 14th District, Florida to local newspapers.

Dear Editor:

On Veterans Day, I had the opportunity to spend my morning fishing with two soldiers who recently returned from extended tours in Iraq, Majors Keith Overton and Jack Griggs. This event would not have been possible were it not for the support and efforts of Captain John ‘Giddy Up’ Bunch and his crew of volunteers who recognize and honor our nation’s soldiers on a regular basis.

Captain Bunch oversees a charity called Operation Open Arms, which gives individuals and businesses an opportunity to donate benefits and/or services for soldiers home on temporary leave. Over 130 local sponsors donate free lodging, fishing trips, golf outings, meals, personal services, tickets to sporting events and other services to these heroes in honor of their sacrifices and service to our country.

Our hardworking servicemen and women know that when they come to Southwest Florida, they will be welcomed and honored by the dedicated volunteers and sponsors who form Operation Open Arms. I’m proud to represent such caring and thoughtful citizens in Congress, and thank them for their efforts.


CONNIE MACK, Member of Congress
14th District, Florida, 2007, December

Dear Capt Bunch,

I want to Thank you for starting up such a wonderful program. My husband and my father-in-law were able to take advantage of fishing with Capt Pressly in Merrit Island on Dec 18th. They had a wonderful time. My husband just returned from 15 month tour in Iraq and it was nice for him and his father to spend an afternoon fishing together. Thank you and Capt Pressly for making that available. We are also able to take advantage of another offer, we are staying at Silver Sands resort in Ft Myers Dec 31-Jan 1. We are looking forward to it. We are planning on retiring in the Cape Coral area and we are looking for land to buy while we are down. We had picked this area a few years ago, but after seeing how much this area is pro military it really makes us feel that we have choose the right area to retire in when the day comes. I also wanted to thank you for everything you have done for the wife of Daniel Beougher. Daniel was a coworker of my husband. They are both in 2-505 PIR 82nd Abn. We found out about his death a few days after it happened. My husband was pretty upset. He had just seen him two days before we went on leave and Daniel was passing out invitations to his wedding. He was already married, but since the deployment they didn’t have the wedding for family and friends until Jan 08. Cpt Pressly sent me an email link to the story about how you all helped Daniels wife get home. I waited until after Christmas to show my husband since I knew he was upset when he found out when it happened . We both want to thank you. Thank you so much and it will be honor to meet you sometime! I hope we get to shake your hands in person one of these times when we are in your area. I also want to thank the people who are all participating in this program. God Bless!


Cara Kwek wife of SFC Chris Kwek Ft Bragg, NC

Recently, our son-in-law and daughter visited us for some R&R after Joe returned from his second deployment to Afghanistan. We were delighted with the warm welcome our Pine Island friends, neighbors and local businesses gave them. They were gracious and generous too.

We would like to thank Lisa Benton of the Chamber of Commerce and the following businesses; The American Legion, Tarpon Lodge, Diamond Head Resort, Sandy Hook Restaurant, Bert’s Bar and Grill and Capt. Gerry Butters, who took them to lunch at Useppa Island.

On behalf of our family, we would like to express our respect, love and deep gratitude to our Pine Island community during an emotional time for our family.

Wes and Joy Morris, St. James City

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you about something very special that recently happened to my family. A few months ago I got in touch with a Captain John Bunch who is the founder of Operation Open Arms. This is a program that provides special opportunities for soldiers who come home for two weeks R & R from Iraq completely free of charge!! My husband recently came home for his 2 week leave and was treated so very special by some of the 125 sponsors involved with this wonderful program.

To start with, Denny Grimes (a local realtor), provided a limo to pick my husband up from the airport upon his arrival from Baghdad. He was so surprised, and I’m sure it made him feel rather special. A few days later, we spent two wonderful nights at the Tarpon Lodge in Pineland in our own little cottage. What a beautiful place for Keith to get the much needed rest that he so deserved. While in the area, the very kind and generous people from the Sandy Hook Restaurant in Matlacha treated us to a wonderful meal at their restaurant on the water (thank you Nicole). A few days later, we spent two wonderful nights at the DiamondHead Beach Resort complete with a bottle of wine, cheese and fruit tray, and plate of cookies upon our arrival. What a surprise that was! While at the beach, we went on a half day cruise on Captain Tom Cameron’s catamaran, the Pathfinder. It was a beautiful day, and what a kind and very interesting man Captain Tom turned out to be. We really enjoyed our time spent with him. That night we ate at Salty Sam’s….another sponsor from Operation Open Arms. One night while Keith was home, we ate at the Farmer’s Market for a delicious home cooked meal. The food was so delicious, and we can’t wait to go back again. Last, but certainly not least, we went out for a cruise on Gerald Butters boat, the Mariposa, to Useppa Island where we enjoyed lunch at the famous Collier Inn. Before leaving, Mr. Butters insisted on purchasing a Guy Harvey fishing shirt for my husband (which, by the way, I had to constantly wash because he liked it so much he wanted to wear it every other day). What a special person Mr. Butters is. This is a man who is a Canadian citizen who is currently studying to become an American citizen. Our time spent with him was so very special; a day we will remember forever, I’m sure. Operation Open Arms also afforded me the opportunity to meet Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp at a special reception at the Tarpon Lodge to honor the OOA sponsors. In addition, a special thanks to the Pineland American Legion and the Women’s Auxiliary for the Walmart gift card and food coupons, and to Mr. & Mrs. Dan Loren and Mr. & Mrs. Alan Cadkin for their generous gift cards.

We have been completely overwhelmed by the unbelievable acts of kindness from complete strangers as they show their support of the very brave men and women who serve our country. They have brought a little bit of sunshine into our lives during this difficult time. As a wife of a U.S. Major serving in Iraq, I am absolutely convinced that there is no other city in the United States that is kinder to our troops returning home for their two weeks R & R than Fort Myers. Operation Open Arms makes this possible….and it’s all free! Thank you,

Susan Overton

I just wanted to say thank you for creating Operation Open Arms. I lived on Fort Myers Beach for 22 years while growing up and am now married to a soldier serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom for his second deployment. While we are unable to use your services, I am extremely proud to see my hometown supporting the men and women in the armed services. Thank you for all you have done.

Karen Lynn, Fort Stewart, Georgia

From Joshua Sparrow:  Guys, I’m active Army currently serving in IRAQ (Baghdad). I just want to say THANKS for what your doing!!! You Are Great American’s, God Bless!

I woke up this morning to find an email from my husband in Baghdad with your Operation Open Arms website. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for people like you. He has been in Iraq for about a month now, and my 16 year old daughter and I have a long haul ahead of us. He doesn’t expect to return until the end of next summer. We miss him very much, and I fear for his safety every day. The fact that you have thought to make their visit home a pleasant one has truly touched my heart. He says he may get to come home for 2 weeks the beginning of next summer. It seems a long way off, but it’s something to look forward to. He says that maybe my daughter and I can fly to San Diego and he’ll meet us there, we’ll rent some kind of RV, and take a trip up the coast (we met in San Diego).

I think that many people don’t truly understand the sacrifices that our troops make when they are overseas. The danger, the missing of family, the long hours, and the extreme heat just to name a few. You are a very honorable and patriotic individual, and I thank God every day for people like you. May God bless you.

Susan Overton (Fort Myers)

I am a resident of Port Charlotte, but, most of my family lives in Cape Coral. I am currently in Baghdad, Iraq. I just spoke with my wife and she told me about your very special project. I have tears in my eyes to know that someone actual cares! I have faithfully served my country for 19 years this July and never before have I seen this type of support. When I come home this time it should be for good as I plan on retiring in July ’06.

I was a recruiter in Port Charlotte for three years and Cape Coral for one year. Everyday that I put my uniform on back then, I wondered how many dirty looks or just the “down the nose” looks people would give me. I am so relieved that has ended.

I chose this life because I believe in what the Flag and my uniform represents. I am glad that there are people like you and the rest of the sponsors who believe and truly care as well. These kids that are here and in Afghanistan and points unknown, doing each and everything that is asked of them, deserve to be recognized. God bless you and all who participate in your project!

Yours truly,

SFC Billy Huether,  US Army, Baghdad, Iraq