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Granny Dot -- a one-woman USO

By Lauren Miller, CNN
Dorothy "Granny Dot" and her husband, Kenneth Landgraf.
Dorothy "Granny Dot" and her husband, Kenneth Landgraf.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Soldier remembers kind stranger who wrote him letters of encouragement
  • Army 1st Sgt. Brian Vasquez says he would do anything for Granny Dot
  • Dorothy Landgraf wrote hundreds of letters every month from 1991 to 2003
  • She says the soldiers are important and she is patriotic

(CNN) -- First Sgt. Brian Vasquez smiled as he stumbled upon an old letter that had been missing since he was a young soldier in Desert Storm.

"You are so kind to remember me with a very nice letter," Vasquez read from the weathered pages. "The cards and letters I receive from you are very dear to me."

The letter contained words of encouragement written by Dorothy Landgraf, a stranger at the time, but eventually a friend. Hundreds of soldiers who got her letters came to know her as Granny Dot.

Granny Dot was a regular one-woman USO. From 1991 to 2003, she wrote more than 100 letters a month to deployed soldiers. Initially, she addressed the letters to "Any Service Person," hoping that someone without family support could have some contact back in the United States.

"I would do anything for that woman," said Vasquez. "She always had an uplifting message for anyone who didn't have family, or who felt afraid."

After finding her letter, Vasquez put in a phone call to thank his "granny" for her encouragement.

Soldier meets adopted grandmother

"It just set my heart alive that he would remember me," Granny Dot said. "My heart aches for soldiers -- it always did when I was a little girl at 8 or 9 years old. I thought the soldiers were so important. I've just always been real patriotic. I teach my kids to be that way."

Supporting the troops was a family affair in the Landgraf household. Granny Dot would come home from work, cook dinner, and her husband, Kenneth Landgraf, would wash the dishes so she could begin writing. Her real-life grandchildren pitched in during the holidays.

Granny Dot's support didn't stop with the letters. She ensured her soldiers were well taken care of by mailing them cookies, toys, games, Big Red chewing gum, films and magazines.

"One box I sent out had makeup in it and ended up in a company that had no females," Granny Dot said. "The men made a point to write me back telling me how much they enjoyed dressing a couple of the guys up and joking around."

The soldiers meant the world to Granny Dot. She said corresponding with them and learning about their lives was incredibly rewarding.

Each time a different soldier responded to one of her letters, Granny Dot proudly tied a bright yellow ribbon to her dogwood tree in New Albany, Indiana. There were 147 ribbons in all.

Eventually, Granny Dot's worsening health required that she put away her typewriter. Once she stopped writing, most of the soldiers followed suit.

Many things have changed since Granny Dot churned out letters and sent gifts regularly. Next week, Granny Dot will celebrate her 59th wedding anniversary.

She said that some details of her vast friendships with soldiers have slipped from her memory, but she is happy the soldiers have kept her on their minds.

"It was my life for those 12 years," Granny Dot said.

The words in Granny Dot's letter to Vasquez have faded with age, but the message is as clear as the late summer day on which it was written:

"I hope this letter finds you well and in a safe place, if there is such a thing in this world. ... You are a delight to my life and my heart. You are the future and I feel that you will make a better world."

 
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