Volunteer Bob Kunze spends each Tuesday greeting Marines and helping them as they pass thru LAX on their way to training or home.
Volunteer Bob Kunze spends each Tuesday greeting Marines and helping them as they pass thru LAX on their way to training or home. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

This Christmas, Bob Kunze plans to be where he has been every Tuesday for the past three years: miles away from his family with strangers who are even a greater distance from their loved ones.

Kunze volunteers once a week at the Bob Hope USO at Los Angeles International Airport, where he welcomes U.S. troops and helps them make their way through the airport.

"We serve them because they serve our country," said Kunze, 51, of Simi Valley. "A lot of times we get thank-yous, and we say, `No, no, thank you."'

In 2010, Kunze was recognized for his USO work at The Volunteer Center's annual corporate volunteer awards banquet in Torrance.

The United Service Organizations, better known as the USO, is a nonprofit that provides programs, services and live entertainment to U.S. troops and their families.

The group also has centers in several U.S. airports to provide food and a place to rest for American servicemen and women between flights.

Kunze, who works as a manufacturing analyst for Northrop Grumman Corp. in El Segundo, volunteers at the USO at LAX from 2:30-6:30 p.m. every Tuesday.

His involvement with the USO started through a Northrop partnership with the group.

"(Northrop) gave four people a chance to see how the operations are like for one Tuesday and I volunteered to do it because you've seen the Bob Hope (USO) specials and, being a patriotic American, I wanted to learn more," Kunze said.

Tuesdays are when busloads of Marines arrive at the USO at LAX after graduating from basic training at Camp Pendleton north of San Diego.


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On Kunze's first Tuesday, when he was there ostensibly just to observe, he got to work helping the Marines with their luggage and introducing them to the USO's facilities and services.

Amy Abramson, the volunteer coordinator for the USO at LAX, noticed Kunze's commitment and signed him up right away.

"He's very giving and cares passionately about the military and about helping, so he never says no," Abramson said. "He throws himself into whatever he's doing."

Abramson added that he is "very good at relating with the people who come in here."

One time, she said, Kunze might have actually saved a Marine's life. That Marine was limping badly with a gash in his leg. He also was running a fever.

"I thought maybe he has blood poisoning," said Kunze, who had previously worked as a licensed medical technologist. "I recognized the signs and I told my coordinator that I don't think he should go on an aircraft and he should get medical attention."

It took a while for Kunze to persuade the Marine to accept some medical attention from airport personnel. The Marine ended up staying in the hospital for a week.

"Bob basically saved his life because, if he had gone on a plane, he might have had a blood clot," Abramson said.

Kunze said he especially enjoys interacting with the troops and their families.

One time, he recalled, he was passing out Beanie Babies to the children of Marines. He asked two young boys what Beanie Babies they wanted.

One of the boys liked baseball.

"I reached in (the bag) and the first one I pulled out happened to be one of those baseball babies," Kunze said. "And the boy said, `Wow, it's magic!"'

The second boy said he liked basketball, so Kunze reached in the bag and pulled out a basketball baby.

"And he said, `Wow, this ismagic!"' Kunze said. "I sent them off with a smile on my face and it made my day."

Kunze helps in other ways, including "wrangling" baggage carts from around the airport to put in neat rows at the USO in preparation for arriving Marines.

He also helps raise money for the USO at fundraisers organized by clubs of Northrop employees. He has served as master of ceremonies at several of these events.

Kunze traces his respect for American troops at least in part to his father's service as an Army helicopter gunner in Vietnam and Korea.

"Vietnam wasn't a very popular war, and I'd hate to think they were not welcomed back as heroes to this country, which they are," he said.

muhammed.el-hasan@dailybreeze.com

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