Worth a salute

One of the positive outcomes to emerge from the tragedies of Sept. 11, 2001, has been the groundswell of support those in uniform have received since that day throughout the country.

Here in Naperville, one of the greatest advocates for servicemen and women has been Dominique Martucci and her staff at Naper Nuts & Sweets, who began a grassroots effort known as “Operation Caramel Corn” back on May 14, 2003.

That effort has sent thousands of bags of popcorn to troops around the world.

“I won’t tell you how many bags we’ve sent, but we still get letters or phone calls every day from someone who knows a person in uniform and would like to have things sent to them,” Martucci said. “I started this because I have twin sons myself, and even though they aren’t in the military, I think about the mothers out there who have seen their sons go, and I wanted to do something to support them. Being Italian, we often show our love with food.”

But the laws of nature and perhaps relationships say that every action has a reaction, and for Martucci, the boomerang has been an unending wave of artifacts, letters, invitations to attend events and more that has come pouring back from the men and women in uniform who have received goodies from home on behalf of Martucci and the businesses and residents of Naperville.

Today, a warehouse Martucci calls the “Naper Nuts & Sweets Showroom” located on West Fifth Avenue in Naperville has become a private “museum” of sorts that few have seen but may soon be open to the public.

“I’ve received everything from 22 American flags in tri-fold to playing cards the servicemen use that have pictures of people like Saddam Hussein and others,” she said. “I have received thousands and thousands of letters, and believe it or not, the person who wrote me the very first one actually came to Naperville to see me six years later.”

Martucci’s collection is clearly precious to her and underscores her staff’s efforts of shipping confectionary treats around the globe. Some artifacts, particularly pictures and letters of those who have since died in the service of our country, have affected her deeply.

“I received letters from a Naperville resident Jack Hennessey and another solider named Brian Slavenas who have since passed away,” Martucci says while pointing to framed pictures and newspaper clippings about the two men. “I feel it’s a blessing to have something of them that remains here.”

Store manager Marge Doyle has worked side by side with Martucci for years, both in overseeing the operation of the store as well as helping with the Operation Caramel Corn campaign. She says there is no priority in her boss’s life that surpasses supporting the troops.

“When it comes to the soldiers in uniform, I’m telling you that is the only priority here,” Doyle said. “When something involves them, it’s ‘stop, drop, and roll’ and I really have to admire Dominique for what she’s done. The things the servicemen have sent back here show how much this means to them.”

Martucci’s collection may include everything from miniature camels to Iraqi currency, but she has also received invitations sent from folks like the late Major Gen. Bud Bolling, who invited her to Ft. Bragg, where she met Gen. William Caldwell, one of the leaders of Operation Enduring Freedom.

“I remember going up to him and giving him a hug, but I guess there are protocols you have to follow and I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to touch him,” Martucci said. “I’m just so thankful and so overwhelmed by what these people have done for us and our country.”

Martucci isn’t ready to hire a museum curator as yet, but says that the local American Legion and others have encouraged her to make her private collection “public.”

“I have to get some permits here with the city first, and I’ve been encouraged to see if we could open this by Memorial Day,” she said. “There’s so much to display and I think it could make a nice public museum.”