By Mark Walker
Puget Sound area veterans are sporting new cloth masks adorned with the Stars and Stripes this Fourth of July thanks to the efforts of a Lynnwood Vietnam War veteran.
That veteran, who wishes to remain anonymous and simply known as “Andy,” has sewn hundreds of masks to donate to health care workers and veterans since the COVID-19 pandemic swept over the nation.
“I’m very grateful to be working with Andy,” said Myra Rintamaki, a Gold Star Mother and outreach and casework volunteer with the American Red Cross Service to Armed Forces program. “It’s always great to work with veterans.”
Andy is among a cadre of volunteers in the Red Cross Northwest Region producing masks for veterans and active-duty troops at this sprawling U.S. Army and Air Force base just south of Tacoma. A group in Walla Walla that includes Karene Gibbs and Carolyne Meagher also has been sewing masks.
“I was surprised at how many we were able to crank out,” Meagher said. “We’re staying busy during this pandemic and it’s good to help out.”
Meagher’s group produced 338 masks in response to calls for personal protective gear for troops. They also distributed some to state veterans homes.
“This has been a great volunteer team effort, during the pandemic, by people with a heart for service and for helping keep others safe,” said Lauren Snow, regional program manager for Service to the Armed Forces.
Snow has been helping coordinate the mask project along with Rintamaki, who has a special connection with the Red Cross stemming from its outreach to her when her Marine Corps son Cpl. Steven Rintamaki died in a 2008 suicide bombing in Iraq.
Mask makers adhere to the Centers for Disease Control protocol for the protective face gear. Infectious disease experts stress that wearing masks is the best way everyday Americans can slow the spread of the pandemic.
Andy, whose weekly mask effort recently led to his wife’s sewing machine needing to be replaced, has raised his production capability to include High Efficiency Particulate Air (HEPA) masks that trap almost 100 percent of airborne particulates.
“He uses high thread-count sheets and recently shared with his dentist what he was doing. The dentist later gave him a $200 check to help the Red Cross underwrite mask materials,” Rintamaki said.
Her Lynnwood home serves as the drop site for Andy’s weekly production, which is eventually picked up from there by an Air Force veteran undergoing cancer treatment at the Veterans Administration Puget Sound Health Care System.
Andy’s new flag-emblazoned masks are particularly welcome as the nation celebrates July 4th, Rintamaki said.
“We get another chance to honor our veterans,” she said. “It’s important to them.”
A number of the Red Cross volunteer-made masks will find their way to Newport in northeastern Washington later this month, for distribution during a “Veterans Stand-down” event that includes a visit from a traveling replica of the Vietnam War Memorial.