Joyce Knipper likes to talk about her son, a U.S. Marine Corps corporal. And she likes to talk about the military.
Recently, Courage has given her the opportunity to do more of both.
Courage is a teddy bear in a red, white and blue dress. She has an American flag in one paw, a Marine Corps flag in the other, and a Blue Star flag — a sign of military families — pinned to the front of her dress.
Wherever she goes, conversation often follows.
“Everybody asks questions about her," Knipper said. "They want to know and they want to help.”
Courage arrived at the Smithtown home of Knipper and her husband, Dennis, about two weeks ago — they’re the second Marine family to host her.
The bear is part of a project started this summer by an Illinois Marine mom named Denise Caliendo. Caliendo is the leader of a private Facebook support group for Marine moms and families, which Knipper said has been a source of support and encouragement to her while her son, Michael J. Knipper, as been serving away from home.
Caliendo shipped nine classic Boyds Bears teddy bears to Marine families across the United States about a month ago. A bear typically spends about a week with a Marine family before they ship it off to the next family. Courage was sent to the Knippers from a family in California.
“We just wanted something for the Marine families, so they can show their pride,” Caliendo said.
Knipper joined Caliendo's group not long after Michael, then 19, left home four years ago for basic training in South Carolina.
“It was very difficult for me to handle,” said Knipper, who also has a 27-year-old daughter, Kimberly. “So, I went online and found this Marine group.”
She said she didn't know what to do or whom to talk to, and the support group has helped her learn to navigate life as a military mom.
Knipper has joined a number of groups as Michael has moved from Marine Corps bases in North Carolina to Okinawa, Japan, the Mojave Desert and, now, Camp Pendleton in Southern California.
These groups also organize outreach efforts for the troops. Last Christmas, Knipper sent 27 care packages abroad with the help of friends and family. Members of Caliendo's group, mostly Marine mothers but other family members, too, have sent nearly 13,000 care packages to troops abroad in just three years, and raised funds for Marine families going through hardship.
“We do so much for everyone,” Caliendo said about the members of the support group. “I wanted to do something for the moms.”
And, “who does not love a stuffed bear?” Caliendo added.
The bears have created an opportunity for those moms and family members to show that they’re proud of their Marine, and to remind the public of Marines stationed domestically and abroad.
As families take the bears around their towns, they snap photos and submit them to be posted on the support group’s Facebook page. They also write a short note about each visit in a journal that travels with the bear.
On Long Island, Courage attended church and a concert, dined at several restaurants, visited a friend’s house and saw the memorial monument at Lake Ronkonkoma in honor of former Navy SEAL Lt.Michael P. Murphy, who grew up in nearby Patchogue and was awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2007 for his service in Afghanistan. Knipper is still waiting to find out when Courage will be off to the next location.
She said many military families have stopped her and her husband as they've carried Courage around Long Island.
“We all have a lot of love and support for our children, and for each other,” Knipper said.