At 97, Fred Harwood is about to turn a new page. It will be a page in a relatively current magazine, and it will weigh 10 tons.
A program Harwood started at the Rotary Club of Beaufort is nearing the 10-ton mark in magazines collected, boxed and mailed to deployed American troops.
"I shipped the first three tons all by myself," he said in a voice that is nearing a whisper. It started with a pile of magazines by his chair. That was in 2003, when our war in Iraq was young and Harwood got wind from a speaker at Beaufort's First Presbyterian Church that the troops needed morale boosters.
But to get to the real beginning, flip back to 1946 in occupied Germany. There, Harwood would eagerly clutch a dog-eared, English-language magazine while serving as assistant adjutant in the 22nd Signal Service Group.
"We didn't have anything to read, other than government dispatches," he said.
Harwood immediately knew his contribution to today's troop morale would be slightly used magazines. He gathered liquor boxes, blacked out the references to liquor, cut them to size, filled them with about 20 pounds of magazines, lugged them to the post office, forked over about $1 per pound and shipped them to any soldier whose name and address he could wrangle.
Soon he asked Rotary Club members for magazines, and now each member is urged to bring at least one to each Wednesday's meeting. A group stays afterward and loads them into free U.S. Postal Service flat-fee boxes, each holding about 16 pounds and costing about $11 to mail to troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"With Fred's leadership and determination, our club has shipped, to date, 19,750 pounds of magazines to the front lines," said club member Jim Holden.
Harwood has been retired from the insurance business for four decades. He discovered the Lowcountry in the late 1950s, after reading that a swing-span bridge had been built to Hilton Head Island. He and Helen, now married for 72 years, used to come down from Maine each February "to see the possibility that spring might come."
By the time they moved to Beaufort, Harwood was a sapling of 71. They both volunteered at Beaufort Memorial Hospital for about 20 years. He also started his Rotary Club's endowment fund. Earlier in life, he was a Scoutmaster, yacht club commodore, and founder of a U.S. Power Squadron unit and U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla.
This old American's story will never make the cover of a slick magazine. But he soldiers on, marching to the post office for our troops in combat.