Not Your Grade School Cooties

This coming July, Duluth’s Military Order of Cooties (MOC) will travel to Silver Bay Veteran’s Home to host a bingo game for the residents. They will arrive with $100 in quarters, $400 in all, and leave empty handed knowing they put smiles on the resident’s faces. A group of residents will gather in the dining hall before lunch, usually starting at 10 a.m. From there, the game will go on for an hour. But, that isn’t to say it is an average bingo game.

“Everybody is going to walk away a winner,” Richard Turcott, the “Seam Squirrel,” or head, of the Duluth MOC said.

Halfway through the game they make a round of the room ensuring that every person in attendance wins at least once, Turcott explained. They check periodically throughout the game to make sure all the attendants are covered.

“Everybody has a good time,” Turcott said.

When Ward Wallin, volunteer service coordinator at Silver Bay Veteran's Home, does orientation for new employees, he always asks the same question. “You guys ever hear of the Cooties?”

Their response is always moot, as most don't want to bring up grade school shenanigans. But in this instance, the Cooties are much more.

The Military Organization of Cooties is an honorary position of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) organization; one that dedicates itself to helping ill and disabled veterans. As an exclusive group in an already exclusive organization, the members of the MOC are hand picked by other members to join.

“If you’re not willing to volunteer we don’t want you,” Turcott said.

That isn’t to say that if someone outside of the organization wants to help they can’t. The MOC is always open to volunteers to help residents with physical disabilities play the game along with the rest.

This commitment to the residents speaks to the selfless nature of the organization.

“It’s about what you can do for them, not what you can do for self,” Don Douglas, grand commander of Minnesota's MOC said.

“It's just a matter of a little bit of your time,” Turcott said.

“There’s nothing set in stone that says we have to come up here, we want to,” Douglas said.

Douglas describes the MOC as an organization that is not well publicized. There is very little written about them, because as they explain, they’re not doing these activities for themselves.

“You don't hear Cooties bragging about what they do,” Turcott said.

Unlike the VFW, the MOC exists solely to serve injured, ill, and laid up veterans outside of the parent organization's political pressures. While the VFW has many interests to fund and protect, the MOC is there for the veterans who need it most. “We raise money and it all goes back to the people we're here to serve,” Turcott said.

The origin of the MOC dates back to the trenches and field hospitals of the first World War, according to Turcott. It was there that bedbugs, or cooties as they were known, were rampant. The MOC developed a mission statement, “Keep 'em smiling in sheets of white,” Turcott said.  That statement was a response to soldiers itching themselves bloody.

Silver Bay Veteran's Home's entire recreation department relies entirely on donations, and the regular donations from organizations like the MOC are an integral part of it. "That money is well appreciated," said Wallin. “They're very gracious with the residents."

“A lot of these guys don't have a lot of money,” Douglas said of the MOC.

While a quarter may not sound like much of a prize in a bingo game, the group donates far more to the Veteran's Home. Every year 83 residents of the group home receive a Christmas donation check averaging $35, and that money comes from community groups that includes the MOC. "That money can make all the difference to the residents," Wallin said.

In the end, for all involved it is simply about helping veterans in need.

“It’s an easy job to do when you’re putting smiles on faces,” Wallin said.

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