This article was originally written Tristan Nichols by and appeared on The San Diego Union Tribune.
After their son was killed in Afghanistan more than four years ago, Jim and Carla Hogan simply wanted to “give something back” to the U.S. troops.
Lance Cpl. Donald Hogan, 20, was serving with the Camp Pendleton-based 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment in the Nawa area of Afghanistan on Aug. 26, 2009, when he was killed by a bomb blast.
When the Hogans met with some of the men who served alongside their son, it became apparent that above all else, the Marines wanted more socks while on deployment.
“It wasn’t because of the quality of the socks that they have; it was down to the amount that they have,” Jim Hogan said. “Marines are not issued with socks by the military, they have to buy their own.”
From that simple request has grown the nonprofit organization Socks for Heroes. In the last three years, the San Clemente couple has shipped more than 271,000 pairs of socks to Marines and Army infantry soldiers on deployment.
Hogan, 57, admits that when the couple sent out that first shipment, they had “no idea” it would grow into such a huge venture.
“If you’d have told us that we’d be in this position now when we started, we would have burst out laughing,” Hogan said. “The whole thing has taken on a life of its own, and it’s wonderful to see.”
Hogan said that many Marines told him that the smaller bases in Afghanistan did not have laundry facilities. The Marines washed their socks in irrigation canals and complained that the sand and grit made them “unusable” within a couple of days.
“Again and again we heard: ‘Send us socks,’ ” he said.
After getting “no response” from a large national retailer, the couple bought 220 pairs of socks from Walmart in May 2011 and shipped them to 2nd Platoon Alpha Company 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment — their son’s former unit.
Soon the couple began to receive emails and letters of appreciation. Then came more letters from Marines and soldiers — as well as their parents — asking for similar acts of kindness.
The first shipment weighed 35 pounds. Now, the shipments, which are sent twice a month, weigh an average of 1,200 pounds. Socks for Heroes has sent a total 22.5 tons of socks to at least 15 units in Afghanistan.
Socks for Heroes was officially registered as a nonprofit organization in the autumn of 2011. It’s believed to be the only organization of its kind in the world shipping socks to troops.
“We’re just Marine parents shipping stuff out to servicemen who’ve asked for our help,” Hogan said. “In the beginning, a lot of our friends thought we’d lost our minds, but it was a passion.”
Socks for Heroes organizes regular fundraising events in and around San Clemente. It buys socks from a wholesaler in Los Angeles, and a number of companies donate to the cause.
In December, the organization was recognized at The San Diego Military Advisory Council’s 2013 Achievement Awards for its contribution to the San Diego community.
The San Diego Padres adopted Socks for Heroes as one of its official charities for 2013.
The Hogans have received many letters from grateful Marines. In one, a sergeant said his platoon’s morale was “always lifted” when the socks arrived.
“This is a difficult fight at this stage of the game in more ways than one,” he said. “Many of the Marines find themselves feeling that we are forgotten warriors fighting a forgotten war. You single-handedly remind them that the people we are fighting so hard to protect will always support us.”
Another Marine said: “We sincerely appreciate the time, effort, and money you and your organization put into sending us all of the care packages.”
Carla Hogan, 63, said the couple loves hearing from the Marines and soldiers.
“It shows that we are not just pouring our energy down an empty hole,” she said. “It means a lot to us, especially given what we went through as a couple.”
Their son was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism in combat. In 2012, a $124 million barracks named after Hogan opened in the San Mateo area of Camp Pendleton. He is buried at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery.