By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
Hudson – Over 50 years after enlisting in the U.S. Air Force at age 21 during the Vietnam War era, Sue Conrad holds the distinction of serving as the first woman commander of two Massachusetts AMVETS posts. As a current member of Hudson AMVETS Post 208 and its Ladies Auxiliary, she’s set to participate in the 27th season of Home Alone for the Holidays. Last year, the all-volunteer program prepared and delivered over 900 hot meals to people in 10 communities who otherwise wouldn’t observe Thanksgiving and Christmas.
Formerly of Ipswich, Conrad felt that joining the military would be a good opportunity to experience other parts of the country. Even as a young woman, she found herself in a leadership role during basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Bexar County, Texas.
“At 21 years old, I was the oldest of the girls there on base,” she relayed. “They chose me to be the barracks guard to answer their questions about the military.”
After completing eight weeks of boot camp, Conrad was stationed at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. She enjoyed working for the recreational services department.
“I loved being on that huge base with thousands of men and women,” she recalled. “I worked as secretary to the colonel in charge of anything relating with recreation – the swimming pools, gymnasium, tennis courts, library, movie theater, golf course, and the officers’ and airmen’s clubs.”
Although Conrad wasn’t deployed overseas, her presence was felt in Vietnam via the wide area telephone service.
“Several of my girlfriends and I talked to the men over in Vietnam so they could hear a voice from home,” she explained. “They’d usually wake us up around 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning and we’d talk with different guys. We gladly did it. It made you feel good.”
Conrad intended to pursue a career in the Air Force. Plans changed when she met and married a man from Ohio, where they lived together for 15 years. There, she became active with a local American Legion post. After divorcing, Conrad moved back to Ipswich in 1989.
“I was a Legionnaire and didn’t know anything about AMVETS when I moved back to Ipswich,” she acknowledged.
She learned about the Ipswich AMVETS Post 201 and was invited to join. Soon afterward, she became the post’s first woman commander and was a given a life membership. Around that time, Conrad met Ron McDonald, who ultimately became commander of Hudson AMVETS Post 208. She commuted weekends from Ipswich and became involved with the Hudson post.
“I marched in a Veterans Day parade in Hudson and in ’89 and didn’t even have the color guard uniform,” she recalled. “I borrowed someone’s shirt, pants, beret, and carried the POW flag.”
Also in 1989, she helped with a Thanksgiving dinner at the Hudson post while Fred Prindle served as commander.
“We cooked two turkeys in an old cast-iron stove,” she relayed. “About three or four homeless people showed up for dinners.”
When McDonald began as commander in 1990, Conrad suggested they name the program Home Alone for the Holidays. She wanted their efforts to literally go the extra mile and reach out to the community beyond the post.
“There are lots of senior citizens who don’t get Meals on Wheels on the holidays,” she noted.
Past Commander Bill Rivers oversaw Home Alone from 1996 through 2014. Over the years, the deliveries expanded to senior housing complexes, homes and shelters. In addition to Hudson, meals are now delivered to Berlin, Bolton, Clinton, Hopkinton, Lancaster, Marlborough, Northborough, Southborough and Stow.
“It’s not like it was years ago,” Conrad said with a laugh. “Now, it’s unbelievably organized. I still help with the stuffing. I’ll continue doing it for as long as I’m able.”
Conrad cherishes a plaque given to her in 1994 by the auxiliary, which states: “Congratulations to AMVETS Post 208’s first female commander – a job well done.”
“We’re grateful to the people who donate turkeys or money for us to buy food for Home Alone,” she added.
Donations can be mailed or brought with a check payable to “Hudson AMVETS Post 208,” 5 South St., Hudson, MA. 01749. Note as a memo: “Home Alone.”