ST. PAUL, Minn. – When people asked Marcia Herrgott how they could help after her son was killed in Iraq (search), she would tell them to cook dinner for a military family or offer to mow their lawn. On Wednesday, she added another suggestion: Make a donation.
Herrgott was joined by several prominent former politicians to launch the Minnesotans' Military Appreciation Fund (search), which aims to provide cash grants to the families of troops killed or wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq.
"This is a citizens' effort to say thank you," said Herrgott, whose son, Army Pfc. Edward Herrgott (search), was shot dead by a sniper in Baghdad in July 2003. "This would have been nice at the time two years ago, to know I had something like this and knowing I wouldn't have to worry about getting a paycheck every day."
Eugene Sit, the fund's co-chairman, said it is the first of its kind in the nation, although the New York-based Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund is raising money to build a recovery training center in San Antonio for severely wounded members of the military.
"We hope that other states will follow our lead," said Sit, head of an investment company, who launched the fundraising effort with $1 million of his own money.
Unsolicited contributions after initial media reports have brought in another $100,000, organizers said. Donation boxes have been placed in banks statewide, the Boy Scouts are mobilizing to collect donations, and a fundraising walk and dinner are planned for the fall.
The group's goal is to raise $10 million and start handing out grants by the end of the year.
Survivors of those killed in combat could get $10,000 from the fund if the effort is successful. Wounded soldiers could receive $2,500 to $10,000, depending on their injuries, and other soldiers who served in war zones would be eligible for smaller amounts, said Michael Gorman, one of the fund's founders.
More than 5,000 Minnesotans have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, Sit said. Herrgott was the first of 23 Minnesota servicemen to die; more than 100 have been wounded.
Retired Gen. John Vessey, a former chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff; two former governors, Republican Arne Carlson and Democrat Wendell Anderson; and former U.S. Sen. Rudy Boschwitz, a Republican, spoke at a news conference at the State Capitol Wednesday in support of the fund. They said the effort was not meant to be political.
"It's not about supporting or not supporting the war. It's about saying thanks to those who serve," said Vessey, who lives in Minnesota.
Though she stands to benefit from the fund, Marcia Herrgott said that wasn't the reason she got involved.
"I'm actually not doing it for my family," she said. "I'm doing it for all the Minnesota families — all the wives and children. It's for my son's memory."