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Cookies for Our Troops founder receives more recognition

| Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013, 12:56 a.m.
Sam Lombardo, second from right, is overcome with emotion as he clutches his 'Legion of Honor Award' as he talks with Marine Corps League members (L-R) James Walters, District 10 Vice Commandant; Anthony Pallatto, life member of the league; and Cam Kulick, life member of the league, after they presented him with the award at his pop shop in Arnold on Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dis
Sam Lombardo, second from right, is overcome with emotion as he clutches his 'Legion of Honor Award' as he talks with Marine Corps League members (L-R) James Walters, District 10 Vice Commandant; Anthony Pallatto, life member of the league; and Cam Kulick, life member of the league, after they presented him with the award at his pop shop in Arnold on Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Sam Lombardo, right, and his wife, Jean, listen as Marine Corps League District 10 Vice Commandant James Walters reads off the meaning of the Legion of Honor Award as Marine Corps League life member Anthony Pallatto listens during a presentation at Sam's Pop Shop in Arnold on Tuesday, September 17, 2013.
Jason Bridge | Valley News Dispatch
Sam Lombardo, right, and his wife, Jean, listen as Marine Corps League District 10 Vice Commandant James Walters reads off the meaning of the Legion of Honor Award as Marine Corps League life member Anthony Pallatto listens during a presentation at Sam's Pop Shop in Arnold on Tuesday, September 17, 2013.

Sam Lombardo's first question when he saw three men wearing the red suit jackets and hats of the Marine Corps League walk into his beer and pop shop on Tuesday was: “What did I do to deserve this?”

He asked the question with a smile.

He guessed they were there to recognize him for something related to Cookies for Our Troops, to which he started and has dedicated 10 years of service.

“I keep getting surprised because I don't think I'm doing anything special,” Lombardo, 66, of New Kensington said of the many times he's been recognized. “I have so much that's been awarded to me I feel guilty.”

The Marine Corps League District 10 presented Lombardo with the Legion of Honor Award, a prestigious award that recognizes individuals for unconditional service.

Lombardo's family kept the recognition a secret.

“You really have to do something to get this award,” said Cam Kulick, District 10 assistant vice commandant.

The Legion of Honor Award is through the Four Chaplains Memorial Foundation, which stems from the sacrifice of four chaplains who gave their own life vests to save soldiers aboard a sinking submarine in 1943.

Awards are given to those whose lives and acts epitomize those of the chaplains.

“It's about what fellow man does for the serviceman in harm's way,” said Jim Walters, the district's vice commandant.

Each week for 10 years, Lombardo has sent a box filled with cookies, candy, toiletries, snacks and many other items to troops serving overseas.

Monetary contributions and donations have kept the boxes going.

“He doesn't think it's him; it's the community,” said Lombardo's sister, Sandy Danison, who helps out with Cookies for Our Troops. “He wants other people to have the credit.”

Lombardo founded the organization following the Sept. 11, 2001terrorist attacks after a local soldier stopped into Sam's Pop & Beer Shop on Drey Street in Arnold wearing his uniform.

He and others in the Army Reserve's 307th Military Police Company, based in New Kensington, were deploying and Lombardo wanted to do something nice to send them off.

After that, he and Dennis Gianotti of New Kensington had the idea of sending boxes of cookies to the troops — something Gianotti said he enjoyed receiving when he served in Vietnam.

The shipments evolved from there.

On one occasion the organization sent a funnel cake machine complete with batter, oil and powdered sugar. Icy pops are always in high demand, Lombardo said.

Lombardo receives soldiers' names from their family members, so the packages get sent to troops throughout Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.

He packs the boxes in the back room of his store.

Lombardo downplays his efforts, saying it doesn't take much time nor does it keep him away from his family or his job.

“In five hours a week, you can do an awful lot,” he said.

What he cherishes most are the hundreds of thank-you emails and letters he's received from the troops, which he keeps in a binder at his store for patrons to read.

He was especially touched by a very simple note from a soldier who thanked Lombardo for the package he sent because it was the only Christmas gift he received.

“I wish we had a guy like him when I was in Vietnam,” Walters said. “They send him a letter — and he just sends them whatever they need.”

Jodi Weigand is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-226-4702 or jweigand@tribweb.com.

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