‘True patriot and true American’
Woman receives highest civilian honor for efforts to care for U.S. troops
MONTROSE—At an intimidating 4-foot-10, Marta Taylor stared down a general and cowed a command sergeant major Thursday, then blinked away tears as the Colorado National Guard presented her with its highest honor.
Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, commander of the Colorado National Guard, presented Taylor, 74, with the Colorado Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of 10 years of operating Operation Sweet Tooth, which sends tons of food and treats to soldiers scattered around the world.
She helped pack more than 11,500 cardboard boxes that collectively contained 394,000 pounds, or darned near 200 tons, of goodies to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen.
“You don’t top that,” Edwards said of Taylor’s contribution.
Taylor elbowed Edwards as the two sat together listening as Command Sgt. Maj. Kenneth Berube detailed Taylor’s actions, which she began with her husband soon after the invasion of Iraq.
As the wars dragged in Iraq and Afghanistan, Taylor packed boxes and sent them to far-flung locations all over the world.
Soldiers in Korea have gnawed on the elk jerky she sends; others have wiped off desert dust with baby wipes or read Bibles or slipped on socks that she mailed.
The Meritorious Service Medal was a salute to “the hard work and extraordinary effort of this amazing American,” Berube said. “Marta, you are a true patriot and a true American.”
Berube, however, earned an arched eyebrow and mock scowl when he described her as 110 pounds. More like 105, she said.
The Meritorious Service Medal would rank just below a Bronze Star if awarded to a soldier and is the highest honor the National Guard can offer a civilian, the guard said.
Taylor’s stepson, Trenton, has nominated her for the Presidential Citizens Award.
Taylor honored her husband’s request soon before he died in 2007 that she keep Operation Sweet Tooth going, a promise she has kept.
Taylor’s “extraordinary efforts to provide our warriors a taste of home—making their deployment a bit more bearable, and showing our service members that the American people have not forgotten their sacrifices—is nothing short of incredible, and we’re so proud that she accomplishes all of this from her home in the great state of Colorado,” Edwards said.
More than 50 people, many of them guard members who benefited from Operation Sweet Tooth, as well as four other generals stood and applauded as Edwards presented Taylor with the medal.
Plaudits came in from her native Poland in the form of a letter from Polish Consul Magorzata Cup in Los Angeles, who wrote that Taylor was “one of the most beautiful examples of Polish people” now living in new countries.
“Serving the society who accepted you and many other people leaving the country under the Communist regime is a beautiful act of paying back,” Cup wrote.
“It stopped my heart,” when she heard the letter out loud, Taylor said later.
The community of Montrose has made it possible for Operation Sweet Tooth to roll on, Taylor said.
KUBC radio holds an annual fundraiser for the project and organizations pitch in to provide boxes for the treats she packs inside.
“We are a team in our community,” she said.
The award ceremony in the Montrose National Guard Armory didn’t interfere with her schedule, Taylor said.
“I already shipped yesterday,” she said. “Ten boxes, gone.”